The new footy season is upon us, and in a burst of irrational optimism, it's time to throw out a few reasons why the Blues and Warriors will have amazing years (cue laughter).
1) Blues/Warriors: If there is a time to be optimistic, it's before the season starts. In other places, like Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, optimism builds during the year. But in Auckland, it's best to load up before a ball is kicked in anger.
2) Blues/Warriors: Look, to be perfectly honest, I wasn't going to be optimistic. Put it down to a keen sense of history. Then the thought hit me: "Why not?". Is this a good enough reason? Well, no. Not under normal circumstances. But sometimes, you get a feeling. At the very tempting point of writing the Auckland-based footy teams off again, a little voice in the head went "hold your horses, not this time".
3) Warriors: Ben Matulino. He's injured, and will miss the first part of the season. Sorry Ben, and all the best in recovering from that knee surgery and infection, but your initial absence is a good thing. The Warriors need to move on from Matulino - over to you Albert Vete, Charlie Gubb and little Sam Lisone. Matulino could have been one of the greats but it didn't turn out that way. His maddening inconsistency is at the root of the Warriors' problems, despite a couple of terrific seasons. To quote 10,000 coaches, all we ask for is consistency.
4) Blues/Warriors: Every now and then, something weirdly successful strikes the Auckland football codes, when you least expect it (which is all the time). And looking at the initial lineup to play the Rebels, I least expect it with the Blues right now.
5) Warriors: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. Appointing him as captain is a master stroke from new coach Steve Kearney. Tuivasa-Sheck must be an outstanding trainer to have achieved what he did with the Roosters. His work rate is staggering. Tuivasa-Sheck is a young guy with a bit of charisma based on an open way of dealing with people. The other young players at the club have the perfect role model to follow and older guys, Simon Mannering etc etc, will respect RTS, and do everything to back him up. It's a magic mix in one guy which only comes along now and then - Kearney has spotted it, and gone for broke. It was a relief to see Ryan Hoffman axed as captain. Hoffman has a brilliant record as a player, but was an odd sort of captain. There was certainly a strange disconnect between Hoffman and the public, and one suspects it might have existed between the Aussie and at least some of the Warriors' players.
6) Blues: Apart from at the champion Hurricanes, there could be wobbles in the coaching departments of the Blues' New Zealand rivals. Dave Rennie is in his last season at the Chiefs, having already decided to join the rugby brain drain. Scott Robertson is making the step up at the Crusaders who are obsessed with an inbreeding which has shackled their attack. There are strange goings on at the Highlanders, where Tony Brown is the head coach who doesn't want to be a head coach.
7) Warriors: There are confirmed sightings of Issac Luke which suggest the Warriors' dummy half gave the off-season puddings a miss this time. Very encouraging news. Time for Luke to front up, big time. My guess is he was disorientated by the leadership, playing, personal and starring role demands in his first season at the Warriors. His emotional haka in New Plymouth last year was an insight into a player who cherishes the fans, but he should be more centred in his second season.
8) Blues: Jimmy Tupou...the Blues have snared a player from the school of hard locks. The Crusaders are the best tight forward school in the business. If Tupou and Patrick Tuipulotu stay fit, there is hope.
9) Blues/Warriors: They could feed of each other's success.
10) Blues: James Parsons. An odd talisman you might say, a lucky All Black who is not exactly the next Keven Mealamu or Dane Coles. While he may lack A-grade physicality, Parsons is no mug as a player. Significantly, he's a popular bloke who plays with heart and has his heart in the right place. He strikes me as a rare character in Blues rugby who can draw a team together and has a season of captaincy under his belt. Call it another hunch. Yes, superstars are all well and good. But a lot of us actually like supporting players like Parsons, who will co-captain the side (with Jerome Kaino) when he returns from concussion in a couple of weeks.