New Super Rugby season, new opportunities for young players to impress in New Zealand.

In looking at the five Kiwi teams, I can't help but note that 33 players will be making their debuts at this level. For me, as we enter the second year of the competition in this format, the way they take their chances will be intriguing.

Otherwise, here are the main issues facing the New Zealand teams as I see them:


They have a new coaching team in Scott Robertson and Leon MacDonald, the pair linking again following their involvement in the New Zealand under-20s. The Crusaders won the last of their seven titles in 2008, so for them, it's time to get back to winning ways.


They will have to do it without halfback Andy Ellis, a key component of the Crusaders for the past decade, and it will be interesting to see who fills that No 9 jersey.

There is also no Nemani Nadolo, and you'd have to say in the past couple of seasons, he's been the catalyst for many of the good things they've done on attack. Seta Tamanivalu is a good signing and will form potentially a very good centre combination with Ryan Crotty, but they'll need that with Nadolo missing.


Jamie Joseph has gone, leaving Tony Brown and Mark Hammett, the heir apparent, in charge. They have the same nucleus of players, so I don't think a lot will change. They have to be one of the favourites to make the finals given their personnel.

It will be interesting to see how Aaron Smith bounces back from a difficult last half of the year. TJ Perenara and Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who will get a good run at the Chiefs following Brad Weber's leg injury, could put the pressure on. Augustine Pulu is also set for a big year at the Blues.

Outside back Richard Buckman, whom I hear was attracting the attention of the All Blacks selectors, is back after missing all last season due to injury.


The defending champions should be strong again but will have to live up to increased expectations. They got the job done last year and there's no reason why they can't again. But they have to be mindful they don't lose key guys to injury such as Beauden Barrett, Perenara and Dane Coles.

There will be interest in Nehe Milner-Skudder's return and where he plays - wing or fullback? Jordie Barrett, a key signing, could play outside his brother at No 12 or perhaps fullback.


This is coach Dave Rennie's last season so there will be a real incentive to do well. Weber is a big loss. One player who will be in the spotlight is Aaron Cruden in his final season with the Chiefs.

And how does Liam Messam fit in? Messam had a disappointing 2016 - he swore allegiance to the sevens squad but wasn't selected for Rio, then tried to come back to Super Rugby but wasn't eligible.

There is also a big responsibility on Anton Lienert-Brown. He was one of the players of the season last year, but might have Charlie Ngatai breathing down his neck, should Ngatai return from his concussion. Or is that a future option for the All Blacks if they are paired in the midfield?


The Blues have an impressive squad and I like what they started to do last year. They got rid of some of their inconsistency but a fair bit remained.

For me, the key is how the tight five go. If their tight five can get parity or dominance, there's no doubt they have the loose forwards and backs to give the competition a real shake-up. Locks Patrick Tuipulotu and Jimmy Tupou will be important.

The halves are also key and it will be up to Pulu and Ihaia West, or Piers Francis at No 10, to unlock the talent outside them. Sonny Bill Williams, Rene Ranger, George Moala and Rieko Ioane can cut apart the best.

The best of the rest? Look out for the Reds under new coach Nick Stiles, and the Jaguares, a frustrating mix of brilliance and inconsistency. What will they offer this year?