It's 10.15am at the Maranui Surf Club and Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett is explaining away.
His squad this time isn't half the news of a year ago and "Hammer" dodges the day's most relevant question when asked whether the class of 2013 will improve on eighth.
"You know I don't predict that," Hammett said.
"There are 15 teams that want to win a competition or make the finals series and we are no different.
"We want to challenge to do better than we did last year. It will be an interesting year. We could play a heck of lot better and maybe not finish as well as we did last year. That is our challenge."
The announcement of the Super Rugby squads used to be one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the rugby season. But player movement is now forecast months in advance so the main talking points yesterday were Samisoni Fisilau joining the Hurricanes and Jeremy Su'a going to the Crusaders.
Incidentally both are international No 9s, Fisilau from Tonga and Su'a with Samoa.
"He's an international to start with," Hammett said of the Northland's Fisilau.
"He's combative, he's skilful and has a good box kick.
"Things tend to happen around him. We are excited about him and there will be good competition among the three halfbacks."
The other No 9s in the Hurricanes' 32-man squad are young gun T J Perenara and Chris Smylie.
Hammett is a sports finalist in the Wellingtonian of the Year awards, on the back of setting the Hurricanes back on course.
He says last year was about winning respect and this year is about winning games.
In a nutshell they have gained All Black prop Ben Franks, lost no-one of significance and taken a punt on 19 year-old Ardie Savea, who by his own admission yesterday lacks the physicality to rough it at this level.
"There is no doubt that with Ben Franks coming in, that offers experience and mental toughness that you don't see in many players," Hammett said.
"He has already been down [from Hawke's Bay] for a day and had discussions with management and he is keen to build something special in the front row."
The Hurricanes have taken two gambles, firstly by choosing just two hookers in Dane Coles and Motu Matu'u and secondly on the fitness of openside flanker Jack Lam, who has just had an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee reconstruction.
"We see Reg Goodes as our third hooker," Hammett said.
"We have taken five props with Eric Sione. We will have a hooker in our [yet to be announced] wider training group."
As for Lam, he will miss the start of the season.
"Jack will be touch and go. He's had an operation and it might be a couple of weeks into it."
All told there are eight new Hurricanes. Besides Franks, Fisilau and Savea, they are Rey Lee-Lo (midfield back from Counties), Wellington representatives Matt Proctor (wing) and Eric Sione (prop) and the Taranaki pair of Blade Thomson (loose forward/lock) and James Marshall (utility back).
Lee-Lo might possibly see more game time than Proctor, Sione, Thomson and Marshall.
"He [Lee-Lo] comes highly recommended from a famous ex Hurricane in Tana [Umaga] so we have kept an eye on him," Hammett said.
"We had to look at the midfield coverage with Charlie [Ngatai] moving on and with Jayden [Hayward] asking to withdraw very late."
Tusi Pisi has been retained for his ability to "close out" games and play three positions but not so lucky is Hawke's Bay wing Richard Buckman, who has been cut.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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