It's increasingly feeling like the Chiefs can sense they are coming to the end of an era and are determined to close it with their third title in six years.

They have opened their season with two wins against New Zealand sides and played, for the most part, with a tenacity and ferocity that alludes to the level of commitment the squad has made to win this year's title.

Their contingent of All Blacks have let it be known to coaching staff that they want to be on the field; that they don't want to be gently phased into action. They all want to be contributing and none seem to hold the view they should be pacing themselves ahead of the Lions tour.

What's driving this hunger are two distinct emotional levers. The first is the Chiefs know that at the end of this campaign they will be saying goodbye to coach Dave Rennie and key playmaker Aaron Cruden.


Both have been instrumental in transforming what was a once shambolic group of underachievers into New Zealand's benchmark franchise.

They are also going to say farewell to James Lowe, an unsung sort of a hero who has been a high-impact contributor for three seasons and there is the continued uncertainty about when or even if the hugely respected Charlie Ngatai will return to action because of ongoing concussion issues.

The second driver is the need to restore pride and rebuild the reputation of the club after it was badly tarnished last year by the adverse impact of Strippergate.

This Friday, albeit we are only three weeks into the season, stands as a big game in the context of their season. Even this early, it's easy enough to see that the Chiefs and Hurricanes are probables to make the last eight.

What the Chiefs learned the hard way last year is that the key to going all the way is to win the New Zealand Conference.

That is the golden ticket and they had one hand on it come the final week of conference play last year, only to drop it when they lost to the Highlanders a few hours after the Hurricanes had taken a bonus-point win.

The Chiefs don't want to repeat that mistake and know that intra-conference games are critical - that's where teams can make big jumps up their respective tables.

Friday's clash has the feel of being one of those games that analysts will be looking back on in a few months, pin-pointing it as a stake in the ground moment for one of the teams involved.

The Hurricanes, admittedly against modest opposition, have looked a million dollars so far. They have been structured at times and yet so fluid and spontaneous at others.

But can they be so lethal against the best teams? Are they as good as they look or are they just brilliant at dismantling the weaker teams?

The Chiefs will want to force an answer to those questions and others. Cruden may feel he needs to prove a point against Beauden Barrett.

The returning Sam Cane will be determined to prevent the game turning into the Ardie Savea show and Tawera Kerr-Barlow, in supremely good form, will feel he has a chance to put pressure on TJ Perenara.

If this is going to be the Chiefs year, a victory against the defending champions will go a long way towards making it so.