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When the media, as part of this year's Super rugby launch, were involved in a quiz on the competition's history, the results were at best mixed.

Not surprising, really. Not when 1066 matches have been played in the professional competition since the Hurricanes hosted the Blues in Palmerston North way back in 1996.

From memory, it was a boisterous evening, a full house on a balmy Friday night in early March as referee Paddy O'Brien whistled the authorised start for professional rugby in the Southern Hemisphere.

O'Brien has since gone north as has the Blues five-eighths Carlos Spencer, though he is making a remarkable comeback with the Lions this season.

There are other connections. Midfielder Alama Ieremia, who scored the first try in Super history, will be back as part of the Hurricanes' coaching staff when the same sides meet in Albany next Friday to start this year's competition.

Long-time manager Tony Bedford is still on the staff and Blues foundation coach Graham Henry is likely to be in the stands soaking up the occasion as he embarks on his latest All Black talent identification programme.

New Zealand's coaches have stayed the same this season, although Hurricanes supremo Colin Cooper has announced this will be his eighth and final season. That choice may not be afforded coaches in several other franchises if their results do not improve.

The side most under the microscope will be the Blues. They struggled through to ninth place last year to continue the lack of clout they have shown since winning the title in 2003.

Keven Mealamu returns to lead the Blues and as you would expect pre-season, was promoting his side's chances. The squad has 12 players who have been All Blacks and appear to have gone some way to shoring up the troubles around No 7, 8, 9 and 10 which have afflicted them.

If they stay healthy, Serge Lilo and Alby Mathewson will bring hope they can solve some of the past dramas at openside flanker and halfback.

Chris Lowery or Jerome Kaino will have to muscle up at the back of the scrum and Stephen Brett is the latest hope to bring some definition to the five-eighths department.

When the Blues started Super rugby life all those years ago, they had imports Ofisa Tonu'u and Spencer as their inside back cogs. Their combination was all part of a side which took out the first title.

Whether Mathewson and Brett, or perhaps deputy Daniel Kirkpatrick, will bring the same clout or be given that chance by their pack will be one of the fascinations about the Blues as they enter this year's series.

Mathewson might be the best buy.

He plays with great zest, he is noisy, he has a snappy pass and superb pace and is at his best when he is playing by instinct. If the Blues insist he plays by numbers this season, a great deal of Mathewson's impact will be lost.

The side's plans have been dealt a blow already with the competition-long absence of lock Ali Williams who has ruptured his Achilles tendon after a similar injury last year.

With some concerns about Anthony Boric's fitness, the middle row is one department where the Blues will be trusting their fortune.

Chiefs coach Ian Foster will take his side into a seventh season after they made the final last year for the first time. They have All Blacks in their loosies and cutting edges throughout their backline and maybe Foster has tapped into some mysterious leadership qualities through Sione Lauaki while Mils Muliaina is resting up.

The 'Canes have slipped the captaincy cloak around Andrew Hore. If that spurs his comrades a shade more there could be a fairytale finish for Cooper's crew.

All eyes will be on Aaron Cruden, the gifted young five-eighths who will make his Super debut outside Piri Weepu, who has returned to halfback where he is more suited.

Cruden has all the skills and an engaging sharpness but when he needs time out, the Hurricanes will also be served by the tidy Willie Ripia.

Much will be expected of others. Neemia Tialata needs to continue his end-of-year reliability to assist his skipper and the same must be demanded of lock Jason Eaton.

Bryn Evans was an All Black wildcard choice before injury nailed him but his cards have been marked to bolster the tight five.

The workaholic Karl Lowe and former All Black Scott Waldrom bring loose forward sting and this must be the year for Victor Vito to make more of his undoubted gifts.

The Crusaders have Daniel Carter back, Isaac Ross snarling after his All Black omission, Zac Guildford determined to prove his international credentials and Robert Fruean wanting to show he carries more than a reputation. Richie McCaw's leadership will be absent for the first few rounds but there is enough quality to cover and the coaching nous of Todd Blackadder, Mark Hammett and Daryl Gibson to ensure the Crusaders will challenge throughout the series.

The Highlanders' aim will be to emulate the rise of their lock Tom Donnelly. He made the All Blacks last year and will gather around him a strong dependable pack for this year's Super 14.

Jimmy Cowan will bring his abrasive style and leadership to halfback but the questions will all be about the firepower and consistency further out.

There is promise from Ben Smith, Israel Dagg and Jayden Hayward, and erratic brilliance from Fetu'u Vainikolo but many questions about their ability to apply regular threats.

Enter Peter Russell. His coaching impact has been noted at Wairarapa Bush and Hawkes Bay and he has some of that talent with him this season. If the Highlanders are to exit the lower half of the table, where they have been since 2004, they need to find some more backline sparkle.