Super Rugby 2014: Hammett's men have it
Who will win Super Rugby?
Too long have the Hurricanes been the underachievers of the Super Rugby competition.
They are living testament to the age-old saying that a team of champions does not make a champion team.
Over the years the franchise has attracted stars by the names of Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen, Tana Umaga, Piri Weepu, and Jerry Collins, to name a few, yet that trophy has remained excruciatingly out of reach.
So what's changed? Certainly not the star-studded roster of yester-year. With an abundance of All Blacks spread about key positions in the current squad it can't be said that Wellington is lacking firepower.
It's the mentality that Mark Hammett has injected into the Canes and the depth of the squad that's going to make all the difference.
The drive to succeed coupled with the self-restraint to execute the game plan with discipline that was lacking for so many years.
Following the exodus of a few egos, we began to see glimpses of Hammett's influence on this franchise in 2013 with well-executed wins (including round four over the Crusaders) and narrow losses in games that could have gone either way.
Unfortunately the 2013 season was always going to be a battle with key players like Cory Jane out for the majority of the season with injury and TJ Perenara only hitting top form at the end of the season off the back of his broken leg.
With a majority of first string players available for game one 2014, the Canes can hit the ground running and will be a force to be reckoned with. With good off season signings like Tom Marshall and Hadleigh Parkes, the Canes have a depth in their squad that is essential for title contention.
While the unexpected can happen once the season begins and usually does, expect the Canes to ruffle more than a few feathers in the first few rounds.
The Chief's will be strong again, as will the Crusaders, although they'll battle without Dan Carter, Robert Fruean and any great off-season signings.
The Blues will be dangerous but will take another season to fully hit top gear and the Highlanders will be rebuilding after their disastrous season last year.
I'm predicting a finish of second in the New Zealand conference with a Canes vs Chiefs final in Hamilton. If they get that far, there's every chance there will be a ticker-tape parade down Lambton Quay come August.
Given they're paying $15 at the TAB to take out the season, I'm certainly throwing a lazy $20 in their direction.
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