In the fourth of his series on New Zealand's Super Rugby teams ahead of the 2020 season, Liam Napier looks at the Highlanders.
Of all New Zealand teams to suffer the stresses and strains of rugby's gravitational pull, the Highlanders have been hit hardest by the lure of foreign riches.
Plugging off-season deflections could prove difficult this season.
Scroll through their list of lost assets and it's staggering the Highlanders have assembled a competitive squad.
Luring talent hasn't always been easy for a franchise that's scrapped more for everything they've got and, clearly, retaining focal figures in the modern climate is just as challenging.
Bottom line: To feature in finals football, the Highlanders again need to punch above their weight.
In the pack alone, the southerners are shorn of All Blacks Liam Squire, Luke Whitelock, Jackson Hemopo and Elliot Dixon. Highly-rated prop Tyrel Lomax was also snaffled by the Hurricanes, and Tom Franklin's reliable lineout presence is another now nestled in Japan.
This area forms the greatest concern facing the Highlanders this season. Can they lay the required platform?
Unlike the Northern Hemisphere, Super Rugby is not a set piece-oriented game. Using the Dunedin roof, the Highlanders will attempt to play at a pace that will force some opposition beyond their comfort zone.
In many ways, they may emulate elements of Japan's rampant formula from the World Cup. This involves aggressive defence creating turnovers as much as it does exposing opponents in the wide channels.
Yet no matter how pristine the conditions, the Highlanders will be tested at the set piece, the breakdown and defending the driving maul.
Getting so many new and developing prospects up to speed – and then attempting to manage their form and workloads throughout the campaign – is a big ask.
Whitelock, Hemopo, Dixon, Franklin and Squire all made contrasting and telling contributions over sustained periods. Where Whitelock was one of the best front-on defenders in this league, Hemopo and Squire delivered consistent go-forward.
Replacing their variety, size and experience will take time.
Home comforts aren't enjoyed every week, either. Travelling to Christchurch in the depths of winter, there is no escaping the combative grind. This is where the Highlanders must ultimately front.
That's not to say they don't have the talent. Waikato loose head Ayden Johnstone impressed last year, as did towering lock Pari Pari Parkinson. Both are All Blacks prospects in the making if they display the required consistency, but are they there yet?
All Blacks hooker Liam Coltman should be hungry for more after usurping other contenders for the World Cup. Likewise, Shannon Frizell will know the No 6 jersey remains up for grabs.
Much rests on newly-installed captain James Lentjes' young shoulders.
The Highlanders will hope Wellington rookie Teariki Ben-Nicholas bursts through to take the next step and impose his powerful frame in the loose forwards but he is another who needs nurturing.
It's a similar story in the backline where attempting to fill Ben Smith's leadership void – the most capped Highlander of all time – is near impossible.
Smith was, naturally, an inspirational figure throughout his time. As one of few home-grown figures, he also represented a genuine local pathway.
Fearless under the high ball, level-headed in split-second pressure-filled situations and Smith's bursts from the backfield invariably set the tone for a team that lives to thrive in counter-attacking movements.
Waisake Naholo, the Highlanders' highest try-scorer, Tevita Li, Richard Buckman and Matt Faddes have all departed, too.
This quartet epitomises the "at risk" group – the experienced, middle-to-fringe All Blacks tier that double, sometimes triple, their earnings abroad. Unfortunately the life-span of these players is fast diminishing on New Zealand shores.
Losing one or two each season is accepted but it's vital to retain a concrete enough core to help mentor the next generation through.
Perhaps the greatest weapon the Highlanders boast this season is Tony Brown. With him committed to the franchise while juggling Japanese duties, the Highlanders essentially succeeded where the All Blacks failed.
Brown's expertise and vision for the finer points of the game, particularly around attacking kicks and exploiting space, will be immediately evident.
As it was with Lima Sopoaga's career-best form, Brown's guidance of one test All Blacks playmaker Josh Ioane will be invaluable.
Fuelled by World Cup disappointment, Aaron Smith appears highly motivated and his understudy, Folau Fakatava, harnesses many similar traits on the path to future All Black.
Rob Thompson will again be the dependable midfield fulcrum, with Teihorangi Walden and Patelesio Tomkinson contesting the other role.
On the whole, there is enough spark to evoke enthusiasm about the Highlanders backline.
Josh McKay impressed at fullback with Canterbury last season and his pace is expected to be given first crack at making the position his own in Ben Smith's absence.
Jona Nareki and Tevita Nabura are lethal prospects on the edge, while Scott Gregory's transition from sevens will be interesting to observe.
Covering the breadth of established losses is a huge task for the Highlanders. Their focus must be on winning enough collisions and delivering quality ball to give Brown the platform to input his blueprints.
Last year, the Highlanders just made the finals with a 6-3-7 record - this time, they start with a bizarre first round bye before welcoming the Sharks and then making the traditionally tough trek to Canberra.
A major rebuild awaits but defying the odds is woven into the fabric of this team.
Highlanders gains and losses:
In: Ricky Jackson, Jeff Thwaites, Ethan De Groot, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Sione Misiloi, Zane Kapeli, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Jesse Parete, Mitch Hunt, Ngane Punivai, Jona Nareki, Michael Collins, Chris Kuridrani, Connor Garden-Bachop
Out: Sef Fa'agese, Tyrel Lomax (Hurricanes), Ray Niuia, Tom Franklin (Kobe), Jackson Hemopo (Mitsubishi DynaBoars), Luke Whitelock (Pau), Elliot Dixon (Ricoh), Liam Squire (NTT Docomo), Marty Banks (NTT Docomo), Richard Buckman (Kobe), Matt Faddes (Ulster), Tevita Li (Suntory), Waisake Naholo (London Irish), Ben Smith (Pau).