The drums are beating for the Chiefs, the Highlanders have their fans and they say the Blues are going to be so much better in 2017.

Crusaders fans always beat their chest about their team. So why is there a curious reluctance to shout, from the rooftops, that the defending Super Rugby champions, the Hurricanes, are in a prime position to go back-to- back for the first time since the 2012-13 Chiefs?

Forget Nehe Milner-Skudder's hamstring. That is a trifle. He'll be right. Forget that Willis Halaholo has departed these shores. Vince Aso or Ngani Laumape will slot seamlessly into that No 12 jersey inside Matt Proctor, whom former coach Mark Hammett once labelled a future All Black.

Lock James Broadhurst is still not out of his concussion limbo, but that was the case in 2016.


Vaea Fifita is gone for a few weeks, and Reggie Goodes has a head knock. But they will cope. Over to Mark Abbott and Loni Uhila.

There will be no Victor Vito, James Marshall and Motu Matu'u, but there is a fit again Blade Thomson, a retreaded young loose forward talent in Hugh Renton, and three classy backline additions in Jordie Barrett, Ben Lam and Peter Umaga-Jensen, nephew of Tana. Prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen looks set to unleash again after injury struck late in the 2016 campaign.

If Beauden Barrett can return anything like his 2016 output of 223 points and nine tries, then the Hurricanes will be right there at the pointy end of the season. TJ Perenara and Dane Coles will again be central to their fortunes, while coaches Chris Boyd and John Plumtree, as good a one-two coaching combination as you will find in Super Rugby, will be hoping Julian Savea can discover some of the consistency of his dynamic brother Ardie.

Pre-season is a notoriously unreliable guide, but the Hurricanes performed well in both 15s hit-outs and reached the Brisbane Tens semifinals. They look primed for a swifter start than we saw in 2016, when the Brumbies put 50 on them and Phil Kearns wrote their motivational speech. And with the Sunwolves and Rebels awaiting in the opening two rounds, they should be 2-0 while the others are shedding rust.

So the ingredients are there for the Hurricanes to again top the New Zealand Conference and win the whole shebang. They have the personnel, they have proven depth, they can play several styles, and they look ready to fire from round one.

Why would you back against them?