Title just start of success for Chiefs franchise, says CEO
Gary Dawson has had to wait 14 seasons to see the Chiefs finally win Sanzar's Super Rugby title, but now the chief executive believes the success is just the start for the franchise.
Keeping the core of this year's squad together was a key and Dawson said the organisation was well down the track towards doing that.
Not only have the Chiefs had their most successful season on the field with 14 victories and a championship, but they've also had the most profitable one off it, with three sellouts at Waikato Stadium and a massive increase in overall attendance figures.
"I started in February '99 and so this is just amazing," Dawson said after the Chiefs' home victory in the grand final over South Africa's Sharks.
"We've come close in 2009 and we made the semifinals in 2004 but this is just incredible and a long time coming."
Dawson said this season's success had not been achieved overnight and would set the platform for the future.
"What we've done tonight is built on the things that happened in the last four or five years, because you don't just get here straightaway.
"We've obviously still got to work hard and I think what's happened now is the expectations are that much higher - there's been a new bar set and we're going to have to work a lot harder and smarter to beat this."
The challenge now was not to be one of those many teams who have won a championship and then faltered the next season, as the 2011 champions, the Reds, did this year.
"We've got a real challenge ahead of us but I think we've got the coaching staff, we've got the squad, got the organisation that can do it so I'm looking forward to next season and really emulating what we've done this year," he said.
Last year there was a big cleanout of players moving on to lucrative northern hemisphere contracts, which enabled Dave Rennie and his coaching team to bring a lot of fresh young talent in.
From this year the Chiefs are definitely losing star midfield back Sonny Bill Williams and crowd-favourite prop Sona Taumalolo overseas as well as one or two other imminent departures yet to be announced.
"With Dave and co when they recruit someone they're usually pretty special players so even if you have a reasonably large number going the new guys they bring in are going to be pretty good.
"Next year we're not looking at such a big turnover and we've got a fantastic foundation with a lot of those young guys and some older heads as well so we'll go into next season well ahead of where we were this year."
Dawson said the Chiefs were "very happy with where we are" in terms of retention and recruitment of players for 2013.
Wellington midfield back Charlie Ngatai is one player understood to have been recruited to replace Williams but Dawson said they had not discussed when any announcements might be made.
"We're really pleased with the position we're in. We've got a fantastic training facility, great staff, there's a lot of stability now and obviously winning a championship means we go into next season on a very positive note but realistic, knowing you've got to start from scratch again."
Financially, the Chiefs had large loans from the New Zealand Rugby Union, required after disastrous seasons in 2010 and 2011, to pay back but would be in good shape after such a successful year, including a home semifinal and final.