By LINDSAY KNIGHT
Although the NPC final was dominated by the occasion it provided to farewell Christian Cullen, the match's most significant long-term pointer was for the future, in particular the revival of Auckland as a major force of New Zealand rugby.
Yet another sign of the colossal talent depth Auckland now have will come on Friday, when the five Super 12 sides for next year are named.
The Blues undoubtedly will be dominated by players from the Auckland side.
And unless they are picked up by the other franchises, several outstanding Aucklanders may miss out.
This year Auckland had 25 of their players in the Super 12, and Auckland coach Wayne Pivac said he would be surprised if next year there were not another couple more.
"Peter [Sloane, the Blues coach] is going to be in a fantastic position as to who to pick," Pivac said. "I guess it's a question of who to leave out."
The Blues have to nominate 24 players, and the remaining four must come from players left over in the draft. With North Harbour self-destructing in this season's NPC first division and Northland the bottom side, the squad seems certain to be dominated by Auckland.
Inevitably, promising players will be overlooked. For as well as the squad who took out the NPC-Ranfurly Shield double this year, Auckland have 10 players away with the All Blacks at the World Cup.
Also to be considered as Auckland players are Paul Williams, a draft player with the Highlanders this year, and Mose Tuiali'i, who was loaned to Northland for the NPC.
Of this year's Auckland NPC squad, only Tane Tuipulotu and Shannon Paku will not be with the union next year. Paku is returning to Wellington and Tuipulotu is also going to the capital.
That still leaves Auckland with a log-jam of talent.
"We've got the players to have another great Auckland era," captain Xavier Rush said. "It's just a matter of the right direction, I guess."
That may be a reference to the fact that the successful coach of the past five years, Pivac, and perhaps his assistant Grant Fox, will not be with the side next year.
Speculation has arisen they could be moving on, although it would be hard to believe they would not be reappointed if they applied for their posts again. In their five years together they have won three NPC titles and the Ranfurly Shield.
Pivac declined to comment about his future.
Meanwhile, Cullen was given a farewell by the Wellington public befitting his status as one of the game's icons. Even the Aucklanders joined in, Rush labelling him as one of the great All Black fullbacks.
Wellington's coach John Plumtree and captain Jason Spice included midfield back Paul Steinmetz, also departing overseas, in their tributes.
NPC points table
By LINDSAY KNIGHT