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Initial impressions: the Chiefs

Adam Julian Roar Guru

By Adam Julian, Adam Julian is a Roar Guru & Live Blogger


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    Dave Rennie, Michael Leitch, Aaron Cruden, Tawera-Kerr Barlow, James Lowe, Stephen Donald and Hika Elliot are all gone from the Chiefs in 2018.

    The Rennie reign was a golden one for the Hamilton-based franchise. The Chiefs made the playoffs for six years in a row and won 72 out of 105 games, capturing titles in 2012 and 2013.

    Can the Chiefs maintain their position as a perennial contender following such a vast exodus of experience?

    Upon closer inspection, the Chiefs have 31 of the 38-man squad returning from 2017. Coach Colin Cooper brings a wealth of knowledge, having guided the Hurricanes to five playoffs in his eight seasons at the helm in the capital.

    For the past seven years, Cooper has mentored Taranaki, winning both the Premiership title and Ranfurly Shield.

    The Chiefs have built a reputation for abrasive forward play and that won’t change next year. Kane Hames, Nepo Laulala, Nathan Harris, Brodie Retallick, Dominic Bird, Liam Messam and Sam Cane form the basis of a very solid front eight.

    Atunaisa Moli and Aidan Ross are improving all the time with the former producing a powerhouse display for the Barbarians against the All Blacks and the later noted for his excellent scrum technique.

    Loosies Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Karpik and Taleni Seu are young, hungry and talented.

    Who will play first-five is the biggest question the Chiefs have to resolve.

    It’s likely Damian McKenzie will suit up in the ten jersey. The diminutive All Black has played pivot in the past, but do the Chiefs lose some spark with McKenzie not in the space fullback provides?

    Damian McKenzie Waikato Chiefs Super Rugby 2015

    (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

    The other options are Damian’s brother Marty McKenzie, a journeyman by contrast and New Zealand Under-20 representative Tiaan Falcon. Falcon is a gifted attacker but didn’t play fly-half in the NPC.

    If McKenzie moves inward, Sam McNicol, Shaun Stevenson and Solomon Alaimalo are the fullback options. Stevenson appears to be the strongest of the three candidates with Alaimalo lacking a long boot and McNicol prone to injury.

    On the subject of injury, halfback Brad Weber makes a welcome return after a broken leg.

    With no obvious back-ups to Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara in the All Blacks at present, Weber has an excellent chance with a strong showing to add to his solitary Test cap.

    Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi has been recruited from the Hurricanes. Tahuriorangi is a talented, but temperamental performer and will have to prove his worth to resist the challenge of Jonathan Taumateine, a young prospect with similar attributes and faults.

    Internationals Tim Nanai-Williams, Anton Lienert-Brown and Charlie Ngatai present the Chiefs with real strength in the midfield while Regan Verney and Levi Aumua are interesting additions.

    Verney is a 25-year-old, originally from New Plymouth, who was dabbling in league, union and building until he got a break with the Wellington Lions in the NPC this season and grasped the chance with both arms.

    Verney isn’t big in stature, but deceptively strong.

    Aumua is the opposite – a monster of a man. The 23-year-old Samoan has played Top 14 rugby in France and showed destructive form for Tasman at times in the NPC.

    The Chiefs have the cattle to push for the title again, but how quickly their preferred halves duo settle will have a major bearing on how successful that pursuit will be.

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    The Crowd Says (8)

    • November 10th 2017 @ 3:58am
      cuw said | November 10th 2017 @ 3:58am | ! Report

      first i dont get why Chiefs favor a foreigner at 8 . Ardron is a good international but surely there are 8s in NZ?

      Levi Aumua is the one to watch . Miter 10 commentary said he is 116kg. he made a grand start to provincial rugby – first by dragging 3 defenders 10 meters to score a try and then dumping a runner on his head and getting a red card πŸ™‚

      the squad is good but if they struggle , it will be becoz of the new 10. Cruden is no Carter but then IMO he was the next best 10 in NZ.

      also with Cruden gone i assume Charlie will be the skipper. he deserves it !!!

      New Zealand Mitchell Graham
      New Zealand Kane Hames
      New Zealand Sefo Kautai
      New Zealand Nepo Laulala
      New Zealand Atunaisa Moli
      New Zealand Aidan Ross

      New Zealand Nathan Harris
      New Zealand Liam Polwart
      New Zealand Samisoni Taukei’aho

      New Zealand Michael Allardice
      New Zealand Dominic Bird
      New Zealand Fin Hoeata
      New Zealand Brodie Retallick

      Loose forwards
      Canada Tyler Ardron
      New Zealand Lachlan Boshier
      New Zealand Mitchell Brown
      New Zealand Sam Cane
      New Zealand Luke Jacobson
      New Zealand Mitchell Karpik
      New Zealand Liam Messam
      New Zealand Taleni Seu

      Halfbacks (Scrum-halves)
      New Zealand Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi
      New Zealand Jonathan Taumateine
      New Zealand Brad Weber

      First Five-Eighths (Fly-halves)
      New Zealand Damian McKenzie
      New Zealand Tiaan Falcon
      New Zealand Marty McKenzie

      Midfielders (Centres)
      New Zealand Johnny Fa’auli
      New Zealand Anton Lienert-Brown
      New Zealand Alex Nankivell
      New Zealand Charlie Ngatai
      New Zealand Regan Verney

      Outside Backs
      New Zealand Solomon Alaimalo
      New Zealand Levi Aumua
      New Zealand Sam McNicol
      Samoa Tim Nanai-Williams
      Niue Toni Pulu
      New Zealand Shaun Stevenson

      • November 10th 2017 @ 9:38am
        Old Bugger said | November 10th 2017 @ 9:38am | ! Report


        A solid team except, I still think the BOP capt was unlucky, to miss a locking berth.

        The pack will have to step up and help the new halves combo – nothing like getting ball on a platter from the forwards, to let the back-line work wonders and this, will be the order of the day.

        Ardron has played before under one of the Chiefs Asst coaches, who whispered in Coop’s ear. I agree, it is a pity that Coops and Co, didn’t spread their tentacles around NZ first but I guess, they gambled on experience against exuberance.

        And lastly, I don’t see Charlie getting the Captain’s cap, ahead of Sam Cane. Although, he would in my books, make an excellent VC choice.

    • November 10th 2017 @ 9:41am
      Jacko said | November 10th 2017 @ 9:41am | ! Report

      If Marty McKenzie is the 10 they are in massive trouble. He is a journeyman at best. DMAC played 10 very well when he first came on the scene and I think given half a season will start showing his undoubted talent. The strongest possible team has plenty of talent so lets see how the coach manages to put it all together. For me a finals position is a definate possability and anything can happen after that

      • November 10th 2017 @ 12:16pm
        Old Bugger said | November 10th 2017 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

        If there is anything concerning about Coop’s coaching role, it happened last month. He had the minor premiers in M10 premiership who went in as fave’s against Tasman in the SF. He did the right thing by resting his key players in the last round and one would’ve expected, his Naki’ team would be primed against Tasman.

        Unfortunately, I think he played the wrong tactics trying to open up the game rather than play, the percentages. SF’s like a GF, are games that are played by the percentages before going open. The Naki IMO, went whole hog from the get-go and the longer it took them to try and get a hold of the game, the more Tasman gained confidence, by holding them out through their pack.

        In the end, it was Tasman that reversed the role after gaining the advantages up the middle and turned the heat on Naki at every opportunity. I just think Coops, was misguided to believe his back-line could win the match when Tasman, played the game up close and personal.

        He has a solid pack of internationals and a back-line that can be damaging for the Chiefs but, the pack will have to work the middle first before the backs, entertain any thoughts of playing a running game. I think with Weber and Macca in the halves, Ngatai and ALB in the mid-field with TNW/Aumua, McNicol and Stevenson in the back-3, then Coops has an opportunity to execute this game plan without concern and a fairly decent bench cover, across the board.

        A good deal, will depend upon the experience that the mid-field, will be able to bring to the game because the pack, is heavy on experience in SR and test rugby.

        • November 10th 2017 @ 9:18pm
          Jacko said | November 10th 2017 @ 9:18pm | ! Report

          OB I must admit that Cooper as coach surprised and initally disapointed me. He seems to have been everywhere at some point yet never quite nails it…..Hopefully the player roster suits the style of play he instigates

    • November 10th 2017 @ 6:55pm
      Cuw said | November 10th 2017 @ 6:55pm | ! Report

      @ Old Bugger

      they had co-captains last season – Cane n Cruden .

      BUT it was Cruden who called the shots.

      i wont be surprised if Charlie is the one doing things next season – with Cane as co-captain πŸ™‚

      Hames Harris Laqulala Bird Retallick Seu Cane Ardron ; Webber DMac Alaimalo Ngatai ALB TNW Steevenson

      a very good side on paper πŸ˜€

      • November 10th 2017 @ 8:11pm
        Old Bugger said | November 10th 2017 @ 8:11pm | ! Report

        You are referring to a player who, wasn’t chosen as captain of NZ Maori?? He may become a co-captain but who am I to decide?? Right now though, I think a great VC, he will be because anything otherwise would IMO, undermine the mana, of Sam Cane who I believe, is deserving of that role.

        And I agree, it is very much a good side on paper but, as we all know, what’s on paper doesn’t necessarily refer, to what may actually happen.

        My colours will be divulged when I suggest that next year, could very well become, a year when Colin Cooper may rise into national coaching considerations but only when, he sets aside exuberance in favour of, experience.

        • November 10th 2017 @ 9:55pm
          Cuw said | November 10th 2017 @ 9:55pm | ! Report

          there is news in Europe that RONAN O’GARA is coming to Crusaders as assistant coach πŸ™‚

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