NRL: Round 4

Game of the Week: Bulldogs vs Newcastle

The Bulldogs have enjoyed a stellar start to the 2012 season not missing a beat and walking away with the two points on all three appearances. However, the starch of Newcastle’s defence will test the Bulldogs attack which is a huge component of their game. Whoever scores first will most likely win the game. Im tipping an under pressure Knights side to crumble under the pressure again and expect to see a hard-fought victory to the Dogs.

Parramatta vs Penrith @ Parramatta Stadium

Penrith by 18

Rabbitohs vs Brisbane @ NIB Stadium

Brisbane by 6

Warriors vs Gold Coast @ Mount Smart Stadium

Warriors by 10

Dragons vs Manly @ Win Jubilee Stadium

Manly by 4

Cowboys vs Sharks @ Dairy Farmers Stadium

Cowboys by 14

Storm vs Roosters @ AAMI Park

Storm by 4

Tigers vs Raiders @ Cambelltown Sports Stadium

Tigers by 10

Player to Watch: Rookie Jason Taumalolo has burst onto the scene this season for the Cowboys. Last weeks rampaging runs and deft offloads saw to it that the Eels never got a look in  as the Cowboys streaked away to an easy win. It will be interesting to see if a repeat performance is on the cards.

Super 15: Round 5

Game of the Week: Blues vs Hurricanes @ Eden Park

Welcome to the newest rivalry in New Zealand sport, Hurricanes vs Blues. After being shown the door at the end of the 2011 seasons by the Canes star Blues duo Piri Weepu and Ma’a Nonuwill be eager to dish some payback to their former club. The Blues will be keen to jumpstart a revival for the 2012 season after a horrid start seeing them at one win from four games and second last on the ladder. On the flip side the Hurricanes have enjoyed an unexpectedly good start to the season. Blues by 8.

Rebels vs Force @ AAMI Park

Force by 10

Waratahs vs Sharks @ Sydney Football Stadium

Waratahs by 3

Crusaders vs Cheetahs @ RL Park

Crusaders by 18

Brumbies vs Highlanders @ Canberra Stadium

Highlanders by 12

Bulls vs Reds @ Loftus Versfeld

Bulls by 2

Lions vs Stormers @ Coca-Cola Park

Stormers by 8

Player of the Week: Hard to go past Piri Weepu and Ma’a Nonu as they will no doubt try to put a dent in their  old side. There will be a huge edge to tonights big match.

Quade Cooper and Benji Marshall the two codes most exciting players. Who is your favourite?

Quade Cooper and Benji Marshall the two codes most exciting players. Who is your favourite?

Round One: NRL

Game of the Week: Newcastle Knights vs St George Illawarra Dragons - Ausgrid Stadium

The biggest talking pointin 2011 was Bennetts switch from the Dragons to NRL rivals Newcstle. So how befitting it is that we see them square off in round one. The winner of the game will be the team most willing to go the distance and play out the full eighty minutes. Its gauranteed it will be a close game and I think with Bennett and his conditioning staff now at Newcastle they will edge them out by 4 points. Expect big games from Danny Buderus and Kurt Gidley after a full off-season under Bennett’s wing.

Parramatta Eels vs Brisbane Broncos - Parramatta Stadium

Brisbane win by 10 points

Canberra Raiders vs Melbourne Storm - Canberra Stadium

Storm win by 8 points

Penrith Panthers vs Canterbury Bulldogs - Centrebet Stadium

Bulldogs win by 12 points

North Queensland Cowboys vs Gold Coast Titans - Dairy Farmers Stadium

Cowboys win by 10

New Zealand Warriors vs Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles - Eden Park

Warriors win by 2

West Tigers vs Cronulla Sharks - Leichardt Oval

Tigers win by 18

South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Sydney Roosters - ANZ Stadium

Roosters win by 12

Players to watch: After a switch to Parramatta this season I’m expecting Ben Roberts to prove a better buy than Sandow. All eyes will also be on Todd Carney and whether or not he can bounce back from another disrupted season.

My Toyota Cup Dream Team 2012

Run-On Side:

1.       Jarryd Hayne - $302,100 (vc)

2.       Akuila Uate - $262,000

3.       Tony Williams - $161,000

4.       Mitchell Aubusson - $167,300

5.       Justin Hoffman - $234,700

6.       Todd Carney - $203,600

7.       Jarrod Mullen - $275,100

8.       Adam Blair - $183,100

9.       Jake Friend - $295,400

10.   Martin Kennedy - $247,300

11.   Sam Thaiday - $258,800

12.   Shaun Fensom - $321,800 (c)

13.   Dallas Johnson - $263,200

Substitutes:

14.   Nathan Friend - $246,500

15.   Boyd Cordner - $126,400

16.   Adam Reynolds - $77,100

17.   Sione Lousi - $96,900

Reserves:

18.   Daine Laurie - $96,900

19.   George Burgess - $77,100

20.   TauTau Moga - $77,100

21.   Jarrad Kennedy - $77,100

22.   Aidan Sezer - $77,100

23.   Konrad Hurrell - $77,100

24.   Kevin Gordon - $96,900

25.   Omar Slaimankhel - $77,100

Here are several tips when choosing your dream team. Number one, if you can choose a regular starting back-rower in any position (in this instance I have chosen two second rowers in the centres) then do so. Back-rowers, halves and hookers get the best ratings on Dream Team. Number two – do not buy cheap players that wont get a start in first grade just so that you can spend more money on your starting players. Read carefully into what each coach is saying about their up and coming stars and buy cheap players who may see a significant number of first grade games. For instance Adam Reynolds, George Burgess, TauTau Moga, Jarrad Kennedy, Aidan Sezer, Konrad Hurrell and Omar Slaimankhel all cost the absolute minimum at $77,100 but they are all hinted at being given their debut in first grade this season. Final tip number three, keep your team up to date. If a player is injured either substitute or trade them for another player. If one of your young guns are having a great season and going up in value you may like to trade them in for other young guns about to join first grade and you can earn a mint.

So good luck and if you are still yet to join the NRL Dream Team competition visit http://www.nrl.com and follow the link.

The NRL season is only one sleep away. Bring it on!

The NRL season is only one sleep away. Bring it on!

NRL Season Preview 2012

Melbourne Storm – Predicted Finish; Minor Premiers

Coach: Craig Bellamy

Star Player: Billy Slater

It’s difficult not to pick the Storm as minor premiers, especially considering their stranglehold on the J J Giltinan Shield in recent years. The Storm have won the award in four of the past six seasons, an astonishing statistic considering the heavily contested competition. Despite all the hype surrounding Wayne Bennett I still maintain that Craig Bellamy is the number one coach of this decade. He has built a dynasty down in Melbourne and never looked back. He is great for the game, especially in the battle against Aussie Rules football. The only thing I see weighing the Storm down is ANOTHER overhall of their forward pack. They have lost the likes of Simon Woolford, Troy Thompson and Adam Blair with the only notable signings of Jason Ryles and Ryan Hoffman set to re-bolster their ranks. But Bellamy does have a knack of making a nobody forward pack into something special.

Newcastle Knights – Predicted Finish; 2nd

Coach: Wayne Bennett

Star Player: Kurt Gidley

Everybody is going nuts about the ‘Bennett factor’ at the Knights but little do they know they’ve had the team to do it for several seasons now. Attacking prowess of Gidley, Uate, Sau and Mullen with a mean forward pack consisting of Tuimavave, Fa’aoso and De Gois, with a team like that I don’t see how they didn’t finish atleast the top six last season! But Wayne will make sure his new men won’t underachieve again this season. With the inclusion of Boyd (as much as I hate him), Buderus, Tahu, Snowden, Laurie and one of my favourite forwards in the NRL Adam Cuthbertson the Knights are going to put a big dent in the competition this season.

West Tigers – Predicted Finish; 3rd

Coach: Tim Sheens

Star Player: Benji Marshall

What is with everybody choosing the Tigers at the top of their 2012 ladder?? Okay they have a great squad and come finals time they will be most likely to take the crown however I just can’t tip the Tigers to be consistent enough to keep the minor premiership. They’ve only made the one marquee signing this season with Adam Blair, but have lost promising youngster Andrew Fifita, workhorse Bryce Gibbs and playmaker Robert Lui. They should cover for Lui’s absence easily with Moltzen and exciting speedster Tedesco at fullabk however the forward pack will be under emmense pressure this year. Youngsters Woods and Groat will see a lot more of first grade this season and I expect that they will shine in 2012. This is also the last season in Tigers colours for Ellis as well so expect the Tigers player of the year for the past three seasons to give us one more superhero season.

Brisbane Broncos – Predicted Finish; 4th

Coach: Andy Griffin

Star Player: Sam Thaiday

Bronco fans can look forward to a great next couple of seasons. They will host some of the best names in the modern game which we have seen get their first grade berth in the past two or three seasons. Blokes like Alex Glenn, Justin Hoffman, Corey Norman, Andrew McCollough, Dunamis Lui and David Hala are the group of players that will rebuild the Broncos in their post-Lockyer stage. Coach Griffin will be counting his lucky stars he has this new crop of players to make his job so much easier. Only major dilemma for him however, is ensuring that Corey Norman warms to the number six role with as little discomfort as possible. He needs to stick with Norman for the long haul and not look for a quick fix.

Sydney Roosters – Predicted Finish 5th

Coach: Brian Smith

Star Player: Shaun Kenny-Dowel

Beware the post-Carney resurgence of the Sydney Roosters. With a disrupted campaign last season due to the ill discipline of Carney, Watts and Myles and injuries to key players such as SKD and Mitchell Aubusson the Roosters (just like any team would have) didn’t stand a chance last season. But with a new look squad after the release of their bad boys, the Roosters are primed for another big five year period like we saw from 2000 to 2005. Their entire forward pack is brimmed with youngsters. Veterans Frank-Paul Nuuasala and Mitchell Aubusson are guaranteed berths in the pack however young guns Jared Warea-Hargreaves, Mose Masoe, Lama Tasi, Tom Symonds Tinirau Arona, Martin Kennedy, Boyd Cordner, Jake Bosden and Willie Mataka lead a huge contingent of players with first grade experience hungry for spots. Brian Smith has the most pleasing headache in the NRL. I am also looking forward to the return to stardom of Shaun Kenny-Dowell and BJ Leilua who both disappeared for the Roosters last season and the inclusion of exciting centre TauTau Moga who is reportedly the clubs next big thing. The only thing I think the Roosters would benefit from is releasing Braith Anasta next season to make room for 2013 recruit James Maloney.

Manly Sea Eagles – Predicted Finish 6th

Coach: Geoff Toovey

Star Player: Keiran Foran

The 2011 Premiers are in for a tough campaign in 2012. However as much as we all hate them we can’t rule them out of the premiership race. With a young halves partnership and solid pack Manly certainly have the team capable of making an impact again in 2012 but a lot rides on whether or not new coach Geoff Toovey can keep his cool. Already cracking under the pressure, Toovey did not respond well to the move of Des Hasler and many other coaching staff to the Bulldogs. He accused Hasler of destroying the clubs dynasty. Off-field nuances such as this will not be beneficial to the Sea Eagles campaign. When it comes down to pressure games for Manly, coach Toovey will not be able to deliver the goods or guidance that his players need. They will coincidentally suffer this season.

Canterbury Bulldogs – Predicted Finish; 7th

Coach: Des Hasler

Star Player: Frank Pritchard

The Bulldogs recruited well for the 2011 season, bringing in Hodkinson, Keating and most notably Frank Pritchrad, however their results on the field slumped as they crawled to 9th position on the season ladder at the completion of the regular season. Hasler and the Bulldogs new coaching staff will be out to reverse this result. Expect to see a far leaner and fitter Bulldogs outfit in 2012 as Des’ renowned punishment throughout the pre-season whips his boys into shape. It is for this reason alone that I would back the Doggies to close out tight games and possibly crawl their way into the top eight. However, I see a big struggle on the hands of Hasler if he is to turn the Bankstown boys into a top four team. New recruit James Graham has been a standout in the Super League and on an International scale for England however I don’t believe he will make as big an impact in the NRL as everybody has hyped him up to. Des may have realised this too as he is starting off the bench for the Bulldogs in their round one clash against Penrith.

Saint George Illawarra Dragons – Predicted Finish; 8th

Coach: Steve Price

Star Player: Ben Creagh

So the post-Bennett era has finally dawned on the Dragons. They’ve lost their coach, conditioning staff and half the players in their squad, where do they go from here? If the Broncos are any indication of how they are to fare then the Dragons are in for a torrid next few seasons until they finally pluck a great new coach out of thin air and magically conjure some amazing young guns to carry them into finals contention once again. But somehow I don’t see that happening. The only thing that can save the Dragons at the moment is their player contingent. With the wealth of experience that the squad has gained playing under Bennett has got to amount to something and so massive emphasis is on the senior players like Hornby, Young, Cooper and Fein to ensure the Dragons to fade into the bottom eight. I also predict a huge fall from grace by Jamie Soward. Without his mentor Bennett to guide him he will loose his way and wont be able to attribute to a game plan, that is of course if Price doesn’t keep him under tight raps.

New Zealand Warriors – Predicted Finish; 9th

Coach: Brian McLennan

Star Player: Shaun Johnson

Remember what happened to the Roosters in 2010? They made the grand final on a huge rush of adrenaline and then lost rather poorly in the final. Fast forward twelve months to the 2011 grand final and you find yourself in the exact same position. I’m expecting a repeat of the Roosters 2011 season for the Warriors in 2012, without of course the off-field dramas. However, new coach Brian McLennan seems to be one step ahead. After studying the Roosters fall from grace he has gone straight to what will make them such a force in 2012 by cutting loose his senior and ageing players and promoting his very successful youngsters to first grade. I’m tipping big seasons from Sione Lousi, a har-running front rower, and Konrad Hurrell a tackle-breaking machine in the centres for the Warriors. Although I don’t believe they are capable of making the top eight in 2012. But expect big things from the Warriors in the next two to three years.

Cronulla Sharks – Predicted Finish 10th

Coach: Shane Flanagan

Star Player: Todd Carney

The Shire is looking promising on the NRL scene. The best pack in the league has been bolstered again in 2012 with two new recruits Bryce Gibbs, Ben Ross and Andrew Fifita. They also finally have their playmaking roles brimming with the right men, new recruits Isaac DeGois and Todd Carney will do the club a world of good. Providing them with the go forward they really need. Two things however, I would change if I wore the coach’s hat at the Shire. Number 1; the inclusion of strike players in the outside backs. I don’t know where they would find them, maybe Toyota cup or perhaps overseas I don’t know but the Sharks really lack try scoring ability DeGois and Carney cant do it all. Seasoned veterans Pomeroy and Best may have been good players in their time but they aren’t doing anything for the Sharks at the moment and would benefit by being dropped. The second thing is coach Shane Flanagan should put Albert Kelly in the halves. Yes he did have a disrupted season in 2011 but the man is an amazingly talented footballer and if he were to pair with Carney in the halves, opposing teams would have no idea where to look as they got ripped to shreds.

North Queensland Cowboys – Predicted Finish 11th

Coach: Neil Henry

Star Player: Jonathon Thurston

What war coach Neil Henry thinking getting rid of Willie Tonga? Not only that but he also bought Brent Tate last season, the man is far too unreliable and low and behold he is stuck with a selection headache in the centres for 2012. The acquisition of Kane Linnet is the best buy for the Cowboys this season as Tigers recruit Lui again is too unreliable. When looking to bolster your ranks for a new season, consistency is the number priority and Henry will now feel the error of his ways. The only thing that can ensure the Cowboys season is not a complete disaster will be the ever reliable pairing of Johnathon Thurston and Matt Bowen.

South Sydney Rabbitohs – Predicted Finish 12th

Coach: Michael McGuire

Star Player: Sam Burgess

There is a lot of hype surrounding the Rabbitohs this season with a new coach and the inclusion of Matt King to their player ranks. The loss of Chris Sandow to Parramatta wont hurt them at all, his inconstancy can be easily replaced by a consistent halfback (like Adam Reynolds) with only half the talent. The biggest issue however is the attitude of new coach Michael McGuire. In the Super League the way to coach a team well is to get the best players and throw them on the field, see Leeds Warrington or Catalans. There is little player development and thus they poach our NRL stars. This simply wont cut it. McGuire has the team capable of winning a premiership it is just whether or not he can do what Johnny Lang couldn’t and create a winning culture.

Parramatta Eels – Predicted Finish 13th

Coach: Stephen Kearney

Star Player: Jarryd Hayne

The Eels have recruited an immensely talented new halfback Chris Sandow, Ben Roberts and veteran Queensland centre Willie Tonga for their 2012 campaign. Stephen Kearney, however, will still need to put a lot of effort into establishing new combinations especially Sandow with Roberts and Hayne with Tonga. They certainly have the backline to make an impact in the competition but without a pack that can rival its opposition the Eels wont be able to do so. Fui Fui Moi Moi, Ben Smith and Nathan Hindmarsh are proven performers however they don’t receive enough support from their fellow forwards. It was obvious last season that Hindmarsh was trying to do too much and as a result his usually high standard of football diminished to below par. Kearney needs to find a way to get the best out of his pack.

Canberra Raiders – Predicted Finish 14th

Coach: David Furner

Star Player: Josh Dugan

I cant see the Raiders making an impact in the competition this year or for the next two or three seasons for that matter. Canberra were meant to be the next big thing when blokes like Dugan, Croker, Fensom, Vidot and Sam Williams were making their way into the top grade. The Raiders will not win a premiership with their current squad, that’s granted but what they should be looking at doing is developing a squad that can win the title in four or maybe five years. The recruitment or White, Berrigan, Orford, Bani etc show the club’s stupidity in trying to find a quick fix to their premiership drought. Keep and develop your young guns and build a team for the next era, thats my tip to David Furner. Stop looking for the quick fix because it just never happens and it starts with dropping Josh McCrone for Sam Williams.

Penrith Panthers – Predicted Finish 15th

Coach: Ivan Cleary

Star Player: Luke Lewis

You only need to read my rant about the Raiders need to develop an up and coming squad to know exactly what Phil Gould is doing with the Penrith Panthers. He has recruited the competitions best nursery caretaker in Ivan Cleary who has brought to stardom many of the Warriors new stars (Russell Packer, Shaun Johnson, Kevin Locke, Sione Lousi, Konrad Hurrell and the list goes on). Although by the end of 2012 the papers will be writing about Gould’s ‘failure’ to turn the Panthers around he will be sitting grinning in his office. He has already started recruiting for the future with the acquisition of Etu Uaisele, Junior Tia-Kilifi and Junior Vaivai for 2012. So beware the sleeping Panther come the 2014-15 seasons.

Gold Coast Titans – Predicted Finish 16th

Coach: John Cartwright

Star Player: Jamal Idris

You look at their recruitment drive, Idris, Douglas, Myles, Graham, Champion and then look to their already impressive host of stars Prince, Bailey, Minichiello, Bird, Mead, Zillman and you think to yourself how is this team tipped to finish at the bottom o f the ladder. Complacency is the answer. Way back in 2010 the Gold Coast Titans offered Scott Prince a life-time contract to play for them assuring him that they will keep playing him to play footy so long as he was willing and ever since we haven’t seen the same man. During 2010 Prince was close to edging out Thurston as the Queensland number 7 and now he isn’t even in contention falling behind both Cronk and Sandow for the jersey. He felt too comfortable in his jersey and as a result his game failed to ignite and as a result a lot of blame has been thrust onto whoever was playing inside of him in the five-eight role. I have used Prince as an example but much is the same for many of the Titans players that were such a force in the 2009-10 seasons. Good luck to John Cartwright because he is in a very big mess.

Round One: Super 15

Game of the Week: Waratahs vs Reds at ANZ Stadium

The Tahs will be out to squander the Reds dream repeat of their Cinderella run last season. With a new look team bolstered by off-season signings and the return of many injured players the Waratahs will do just that. Expect Rocky Elsom to silence the critics questioning whether he is the right man to captain the Tahs with a big performance against many of his Wallabies teammates. Player to watch: All eyes will be on makeshift number ten Mike Harris, who has been given the formidable task of keeping Quade Cooper’s boots warm. If Harris fires expect the Reds to respond.

Blues vs Crusaders at Eden Park

Crusaders win by 12 points

Brumbies vs Force at Canberra Stadium

Force win by 2

Bulls vs Sharks at Loftus Versfeld

Bulls win by 5

Cheifs vs Highlanders at Waikato Stadium

Cheifs win by 14

Stormers vs Hurricanes at Newlands

Stormers win by 4

Lions vs Cheetahs at Ellis Park

Cheetahs win by 16

Player to Watch: Both Tusi Pisi and Aaron Cruden are paramount for their respective teams. Look for both young flyhalves to have strong starts to the season.

Super Rugby preview: New Zealand Conference

Christchurch Crusaders: Predicted finish 1st

Players to Watch: Dan Carter and Israel Dagg

Just like the NRLs Manly the Crusaders are the team that every Australian loves to hate! Why do we hate them?? Because they are just so damn good! Solid scrum, strong at the line and in the breakdown and very classy in the backs. When you have a man like Dan Carter dictating play its hard not to be the best in the competition. He is the best organising player in the game and the Crusaders will again reap the benefits of his exceptional kicking game. Look for Israel Dagg to have a big season after shining for the All Blacks in their World Cup triumph.

Weakness: Many clubs would suffer losing marque players of Brad Thorn and Sonny-Bill Williams’ calibre. The only real test for the Crusaders is whether or not their newcomers can fill that massive void. Sam Whitelock will have to have a big season to ensure this can happen, as will Robbie Fruean.

Auckland Blues: Predicted finish 3rd

Players to Watch: Jerome Kaino, Piri Weepu and Ma’a Nonu

The Auckland Blues have made some great recruitments in the off season with both Ma’a Nonu and Piri Weepu set to turn out for the club in 2012. Although I’ve said they will finish the Super 15 season in 3rd position and 2nd in their conference they are my choice for the crown this season. With a solid pack lead by veteran Kevin Mealamu and the most damaging ball-runner in the competittion Jerome Kaino the Blues will lay a solid platform that will see their new recruits shine in the backline. With a better pack in front of him expect to see Piri Weepu’s name on the scorecards more often this season as the best in the business will have plenty more time for his trademark srum-half pick and gos. 

Weakness: The only threat to the Blues season is whether or not they can knuckle down come crunch-time. It was a habit last season that the Blues couldn’t convert tight matches into wins but with new match-winners now in their ranks this shouldn’t be a problem. Look for coach Pat Lam to really have his troops fired up for big matches against the likes of the Crusaders, Tahs, Reds and Stormers.

Waikato Cheifs: Predicted finish 7th

Players to Watch: Aaron Cruden and Sonny-Bill Williams

My friends and I have a saying; ‘Always be yourself, unless you can be Sonny-Bill Williams. Always be Sonny-Bill.’ This year could be big for the Waikato based Chiefs. Many are tipping a Reds-like rise to stardom for the struggling club and with new recruits Aaron Cruden and Sonny-Bill Williams fresh from their World Cup triumphs they will head into the new season full of confidence and with a point to prove. After being labelled the underachievers and finishing bottom of the New Zealand conference the Cheifs will dramatically improve and are on the verge of a finals berth.

Weakness: Super Sonny-Bill can’t do it all himself. It’s as simple as that. The Cheifs pack may not boast many big names but they can certainly stand their ground at the breakdown and during scrumtime. If the Cheifs are to be a force at all this season they are going to have to do just that. The likes of Cruden, Williams and Kahui can not be expected to make an impact with a pack that is going backwards. The main priority for the Cheifs is to ensure that they don’t rely on their new star power to do it all. A finals berth will only come to the teams most willing to work for it.

Otago Highlanders: Predicted finish 10th

Players to Watch: Hosea Gear, James Haskill and Colin Slade

I don’t know how they do it but the men from Dunedin always seem to finish their season just shy of a finals berth. With strong new recruits in All Blacks winger Hosea Gear and powerful English number eight James Haskill the Highlanders could be hard to stop and could finish within the 7th to 10th bracket which will be hotly contested. Strong finishers in the back three like Gear and Slade mean that any half chance they get will be converted into points. However, good service to their backs may be an issue.

Weakness: Although Slade and Gear may have points written all over them don’t expect them to come easily. Without quality ball from their little known halves they wont be able to shine. The pack may also suffer when confronted by the top four teams and many of the bruising South African packs. 

Wellington Hurricanes: Predicted finish 12th

Players to Watch: Tusi Pisi, Victor Vito and Conrad Smith

Many criticised the Hurricanes decision to release both Ma’a Nonu and Piri Weepu but I’m not so concerned. Samoan flyhalf Tusi Pisi is an exciting player as he proved in last years World Cup and backed by Conrad Smith and Colin Slade he could have a standout season in Hurricanes colours. Also look for Victor Vito to make his mark as a standout backrower. I expect to see Vito in a run-on jumper for the All Blacks in the near future.

Weakness: Highlanders struggled in the big games last season and with a young flyhalf steering them around the park and the loss of their biggest names i expect to see much the same this season. The Cheifs, Bulls, Force and Highlanders will be engaged in a dogfight for the seven through to ten positions on the ladder. I can’t see the Hurricanes playing at the same intensity as these four teams and as a result could see them finish as low as twelth on the ladder.

Sonny-Bill Williams, face of New Zealand Rugby. Now a Chief

Sonny-Bill Williams, face of New Zealand Rugby. Now a Chief