In the third of his series on New Zealand's Super Rugby teams ahead of the 2020 season, Liam Napier looks at the Blues.
Little inspires to suggest this year's Blues campaign will differ markedly to other, recent meandering efforts.
New seasons bring fresh waves of hope but, if you're a Blues fan, it's best advised to place expectations at the shallow end of the dream pool.
That way, anything other than mediocrity will be a pleasant surprise.
After 14th and 13th place finishes in the past two years, it sure can't get much worse.
If there's an opening for the Blues it comes from the continued pillaging of New Zealand talent, particularly those on the All Blacks fringe, and top line sabbaticals which leaves this country's conference seemingly as open as ever.
Sneak the odd derby win and the Blues eight-year playoff drought could end… just don't bank on it.
Frustrations are more likely to linger.
For all the understandable hype surrounding Beauden Barrett's capture the Blues won't gain any benefits from the All Blacks playmaker until mid-April. That timeframe alone makes for a disjointed season.
By that point, the Blues could be well off the pace.
Barrett then has a sabbatical clause similar to Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock. His four-year deal is, therefore, more accurately two-and-a-half seasons for the Blues.
When he eventually pulls on the Blues jersey for the first time Barrett's influence will be expected to immediately shine.
Until then, though, the Blues seem much the same version of previous years, with much the same question marks.
Ma'a Nonu and Melani Nanai, two of their best performers last year, have departed. Sonny Bill Williams has also switched codes but he barely featured for the Blues in 2019.
Other than Barrett and perhaps Joe Marchant, the English midfielder who arrives from Harlequins on a one-season loan arrangement, recruitment delivered few gems.
In fact the most significant change came with chief executive Michael Redman moving on.
On the pitch fullback has long been a problematic position and again they have no readymade prospects.
Matt Duffie is one option but with Caleb Clarke chasing the Olympic dream on the sevens circuit the 2017 All Blacks wing is likely to be needed on the edge.
With three first five-eighths - Stephen Perofeta, Otere Black, Harry Plummer - on their books the Blues may opt to shift one to the backfield. That's hardly a guaranteed solution, either.
Barrett, of course, moved to fullback for the All Blacks last year, but he has expressed a desire to return to No 10 for Super Rugby.
Elsewhere Rieko Ioane's intent to play centre comes with significant compromise in that it limits his proven finishing abilities wider out and creates somewhat of a log-jam in the midfield.
Separating the three Blues halfback contenders - Finlay Christie, Jonathan Ruru and Sam Nock – is difficult in that they all sit below other New Zealand starters.
One positive is Tom Robinson. Those long, flowing ginger locks accentuate his telling contributions. Robinson was the brightest spark for the Blues last year. If he can replicate his form the door sits ajar to push for the vacant All Blacks blindside flanker jersey.
In many ways he epitomises the characteristics the Blues must embody – heart and hunger to make a difference in everything he does.
Patrick Tuipulotu should be poised to finally fulfil his obvious potential following one of the best seasons of his career. With Retallick absent for the next two seasons and Whitelock skipping the Crusaders campaign, Tuipulotu must stamp his senior authority at this level and then carry that through to the All Blacks.
Now his injury battles are behind him, midfielder TJ Faiane is another maturing into calming presence with claims as a captaincy candidate.
Tanielu Tele'a's favoured position is midfield but he starred on the wing last season. No matter where he features, his raw power and pace is sure to cause opposition major problems.
The Blues must leverage the most from props Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Karl Tu'inukuafe, the once-heralded turned castoff All Black, but with locking stocks limited they'll rely heavily on their loose forwards.
This is where the gauge of this team can be read.
In Akira Ioane, Robinson, Dalton Papalii and Blake Gibson, another captaincy candidate, the Blues boast dynamic power athletes but we're yet to see the best of them as a unit.
Ioane hissed at the start of last season, only to fade and miss World Cup selection.
Kieran Read's test retirement leaves a huge hole for the All Blacks to fill at No 8. To take the next step from prodigy to feared force the time is now for Ioane to stand up and deliver the consistent work-rate the All Blacks have long demanded of him.
A litany of candidates can attest that coaching the Blues is no easy task.
To break the franchise's cellar-dwelling New Zealand status, Leon MacDonald needs to pull off a remarkable transformation by extracting every ounce of talent from his squad and getting them to buy into a common cause.
Being competitive is not enough.
How much did MacDonald learn in year one? We're about to find out.
Blues gains and losses:
IN: Kurt Eklund, Ray Niula, Aaron Carroll, Tony Lamborn, Waimana Riedlinger-Kapan, James Tucker, Finlay Christie, Beauden Barrett, Jack Heighton, Joe Marchant, Jordan Hyland, Emoni Narawa, Mark Telea, Jared Page
OUT: Lua Li, Hisa Sasagi, Leni Apisai, Matt Moulds, Scott Scrafton, Jed Brown, Matt Matich, Jimmy Tupou, Augustine Pulu, Levi Aumua, Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Melani Nanai, Michael Collins, Jordan Trainor