Super Rugby is here, the NRL is not far away. Some random hopes for the 2018 rugby and league seasons.
1) The Hurricanes' Magnificent Seven comes together
The Hurricanes have set the standards for backline star power, particularly in the days of Christian Cullen, Jonah Lomu, Tana Umaga et al. The original Blues backline, fired by the rising Carlos Spencer, was pretty hard to beat. The Brumbies had a very slick combination based around halves George Gregan and the incomparable Stephen Larkham.
But at full strength, the current Hurricanes unit at least matches those after Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso showed the right stuff last season.
What about a lineup of TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea, Ngani Laumape, Vince Aso, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Jordie Barrett?
That combination has it all, from the brilliance and innovation of Beauden Barrett, Laumape's blunt force, Savea's athletic power and Milner-Skudder's magical feet.
If things go to plan, with Milner-Skudder due back around late April, they could blow teams away in the business end of the season.
Jordie Barrett can move all over that backline, and the quality additions include Wes Goosen and Matt Proctor. This Hurricanes back division is potentially the best I've seen in Super Rugby alongside the original Blues brigade of 1996. The pressure is on coach Chris Boyd, in his final season, to deliver on that potential.
2) Rieko Ioane kicks on
There's an assumption the rising superstar of world rugby is unstopppable. But when it comes to the Blues, life is not always smooth.
3) Simon Mannering wins an NRL title
This isn't going to happen, sadly. The Warriors stalwart deserves so much better. He has held the constant NRL disappointments together a la the way Steve Price did before him.
Who knows where this club would be without Mannering, who has put up with all sorts of nonsense such as the ridiculous recruitment of Kieran Foran, and teammates who lack his professional dedication.
Mannering could have departed for a starting spot in a title-contending club, even if he is not the type of player who attracts a top dollar contract. The lion hearted forward has given the Warriors everything he has without any fuss on or off the field. He at least deserves more finals footy, after six lean seasons outside the playoffs.
4) The rugby scrums don't become a mess
There's a scrum contest going on in world rugby - the northern hemisphere mob still treasure the battle, while the southern hemisphere sees scrums as more of a re-start method. The new rules include insisting that the team putting the ball in must attempt to hook it. Forcing the hooker to hook actually undermines the front row.
At least the No. 8 can now reach into the scrum to pick up the ball. But yet another rule change might cause more of a mess. Apparently the Blues and Hurricanes deployed different approaches during a trial game, with unsteady results. Be afraid, very afraid.
5) Rugby retains a rules status quo for 2019
Further to the above...every new rugby season becomes a venture into the unknown, for fans, players and under-siege referees. It would be great if World Rugby decided there will be no rule changes in the World Cup year. They should announce this now.
6) Kieran Foran fails at the Bulldogs
Sorry, but I've got a serious resentment against the former Kiwi standoff, over what happened at the Warriors last year. He came, he used, he took off. The club was naive and downright stupid bringing the troubled, injured and suspended footballer here in the first place. And Foran threw it back in their face.
7) The referees get a break
In both codes. They have been turned into soft targets. The general abuse aimed at referees, particularly from losing coaches, is a disgrace. The whiners often claim they only want accountability. Those very same coaches use referees to avoid taking responsibility themselves. Hypocrites.
8) Sam Kasiano is still Sam Kasiano
Big Sam, the ex-Kiwi forward, was one of the greatest sights in the NRL. At his best, he was unstoppable with the Bulldogs. His transfer to champions Melbourne, where coach Craig Bellamy whips everyone into shape, could revitalise the Auckland-born prop's career. But photos reveal that Kasiano (above) cuts a very different figure — having lost 17kg he is almost unrecognisable. Kasiano averaged around half an hour a game last year but in his case more minutes could be less. Hopefully Bellamy hasn't trained the x-factor out of him.
9) The NRL pundits are wrong
Virtually no one across the ditch is predicting anything but trouble for the Warriors this year. It makes dismal reading.
The Warriors don't have much further to fall than last season, yet three of six Sydney Telegraph pundits this week chose the Warriors as the team most likely to go backwards in 2018.
These include original Warrior and NRL great Greg Alexander, who believes the Auckland club is fully capable of finishing last.
The Newcastle Knights finished last in 2017 with five wins from 24 games. But the Knights have recruited so well that some are predicting they will make the top eight. The Warriors, Tigers and Titans were the next worst performers in 2017, with seven wins each.
10) Nehe Milner-Skudder beats his injury curse
Goes without saying. Love watching him play.
11) People stop defending Eden Park
Nothing will be achieved by propping up a stadium which falls well short of modern standards for football and cricket. It is also a financial disaster. Despite the windfall provided by hosting three British and Irish Lions matches last year, Eden Park was unable to pay off any principal on their loans. It still has $50m in debt. A couple of raucous T20 bashes shouldn't sidetrack proper debate about what Auckland needs.
12) The new Super Rugby format turns out to makes sense
Don't hold your breath though.