COMMENT: As the end of the year rapidly approaches, so too do a heap of random thoughts about what may happen in 2019.
World Cup years tend to run on a different sort of fuel altogether. They usually have some kind of unexpected drama or intrigue.
There is often a twist in the plot, and in some years, we have seen remarkably heavy rewrites of the predicted script.
In no particular order, the thoughts that jump out as 2018 comes to an end are:
• Can Ma'a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams really wind back the clock and reignite their former partnership to the extent that the All Blacks give them another go?
• Will the Crusaders be damaged by having such a heavy All Blacks presence in their ranks? The last time they failed to make the playoffs was 2015, when their array of All Blacks really didn't deliver much in Super Rugby, as they were holding back for the World Cup.
• How are the Highlanders going to manage having four of the country's five best blindsides in their squad? How do they give game time to Liam Squire, Shannon Frizell, Elliot Dixon and Jackson Hemopo and get the best out of all of them?
• Are the All Blacks really going to persevere with Damian McKenzie at fullback or shift Ben Smith there and see if Jordie Barrett can play as well as he did on the wing against Italy against better quality opposition?
• Will Kieran Read be able to eke out the last part of his physical recovery from back surgery over summer? He was playing at about 90 per cent in 2018. Will he make it to 100 per cent in 2019?
• Will Akira Ioane finally start looking like an All Blacks No8 this year? There are many good judges hopeful that the arrival of Tom Coventry at the Blues will be the making of Ioane - that the no-nonsense coach will persuade his talented charge to work harder, tackle lower and with his shoulders.
• Will we see Kane Hames return to action? The Chiefs loosehead didn't play at all in 2018 due to concussion. He was starting to train towards the end of the year but that doesn't mean he'll make it back to the field. And if he does, will he be able to force his way back into the All Blacks picture? It seems a hard road back for him now with Joe Moody and Karl Tu'inukuafe blocking his path.
• And talking of Tu'inukuafe, will he be able to build on what he produced this year? So many first-year All Blacks who impress struggle to do it again in their second year.
• Will there be a critical injury during Super Rugby? In 2015, it was Aaron Cruden whose dreams were crushed in April when he damaged his knee playing against the Crusaders. What if the All Blacks lose Read during Super Rugby and they have to go to the World Cup without a known No8?
• Can Sam Cane recover from his broken neck? The prognosis for him is good and he's the sort of character who will power through the rehab work. But it was a bad injury and there is no certainty he'll make it back.
• Can Aaron Smith find his best form again? He was a little out of sorts this year. Not horribly so, but just not quite as sharp and decisive as he has been. Was it just a bad year or has he lost his edge?
• Is Sir Clive Woodward going to be proven right or wildly wrong with his belief that the All Blacks have made a mistake by announcing Steve Hansen's intentions a year before the tournament? The former England coach says it was weak for Hansen to reveal his plan to stand down at the end of the World Cup - that it will become a distraction. Woodward might be right or he could be wildly out of touch and clutching at straws trying to talk up England's chances.
• How will New Zealanders react if the All Blacks lose their World Cup opening game to South Africa and are then beaten in a quarter-final against Ireland?