With barbecues at full flame, sun-kissed faces prevalent and the sound of willow on leather never far from earshot it's hard to fathom Super Rugby kicking off in a little over three weeks. Moving the international rugby window from June to July has brought Super Rugby forward, and so the oval ball game encroaches further into summer. As the start of the competition nears we kick off a look at the five New Zealand teams, starting with the Hurricanes.
Minute to minute, game to game, the Hurricanes could be something of a whirlwind this season. Their form spectrum could rival the notoriously wild Wellington southerly to swing from the sublime to the head-scratching.
Lacking an established playmaker at No 10, the fear for the Hurricanes is inconsistency will ultimately prevail.
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Every team with any form of solid defensive strategy will rush and pressure this weak, once fulcrum, point of their team.
Worst case scenario is this obvious absence will send them into a tailspin. Best case they defy the accepted premise that one needs a proven backline director to succeed.
When they click the Hurricanes have always been capable of destroying anyone.
While that threat remains, their status as the second-best performing New Zealand side of recent times now appears tenuous.
On paper, the Hurricanes seem a squad one or two years removed from their potential prime, one or two world-class players short of championship contenders.
After eight years of magic Beauden Barrett moments, the Hurricanes must tread a new path.
Barrett and the very identity of the latter-day Hurricanes are intrinsically linked.
Whether it's his passing vision, pace and acceleration, chip and chases or counter-attacking brilliance, Barrett's freakish talents sparked so much of the Hurricanes' guile.
No more can they rely on his instinctive genus. A major shift is, therefore, required.
Between this season's late, late start and subsequent sabbatical clause, Barrett's Super Rugby influence will be fleeting at best in the coming years.
Yet it's hard to shake the sense the Hurricanes will struggle to overcome his move to the Blues.
Change has certainly been a constant for this franchise. How they react to it will determine future prospects.
As John Plumtree joins Ian Foster's new-look All Blacks management team Jason Holland becomes the Hurricanes third head coach in as many seasons, matching the high player turnover this side has suffered.
Alongside fresh forwards coach Chris Gibbes and new defence mentor Cory Jane, Holland is tasked with minimising disruption as much as anything else.
Holland and Gibbes could well establish a successful partnership but this campaign sees them thrust into the furnace. Their blueprint rests in the design phase.
The Hurricanes' opening road trip to Cape Town and Buenos Aries where they confront two of the strongest foreign sides, the Stormers and Jaguares, only enhances the sense of anxiety ahead.
No one wants to start the season in a hole.
Four years in succession the Hurricanes have reached the finals – not since the dreaded Mark Hammett reign did they fail to crack the postseason.
In that time they surpassed the Chiefs and went toe-to-toe with the Crusaders for New Zealand supremacy.
With Barrett gone, and Ardie Savea sidelined for much of the season following knee surgery, expectations of similar success must now be tempered.
The core of the Hurricanes squad remains class, if not green-tinged.
Super Rugby is increasingly the playground for emerging stars. In this regard, the Hurricanes need prop Alex Fidow, lock Isaia Walker-Leawere, promising openside Du'Plessis Kirifi, first-five Fletcher Smith, hooker Asafo Aumua and midfielder Billy Proctor to believe they belong.
These future leaders must be leaders of the now.
TJ Perenara and Jordie Barrett, who starts the season as the 22-year-old senior member, must shoulder much of the playmaking burden, with Smith yet to prove his credentials.
Jackson Garden-Bachop and veteran utility James Marshall are other, unconvincing options aside from Smith charged with filling Beauden Barrett's breach.
Despite their best efforts, the Hurricanes failed to lure a suitable first-five replacement – test ready playmakers willing to take sizable pay cuts aren't readily available. This season, therefore, shapes as a stopgap, before attention again turns to recruiting an experienced ten.
Suggestions Jordie Barrett will replace his brother are misguided – he can assume playmaking responsibilities by slotting into the line from the backfield in much the same way the elder Barrett did for the All Blacks last year and Damian McKenzie will do in his return alongside Aaron Cruden at the Chiefs this season.
Up front Dane Coles, Vaea Fifita and newly-recruited All Blacks prop Tyrel Lomax will be expected to lead the Hurricanes pack that should have an edge under Gibbes, a man familiar to many of the forward prospects from his successful tenure with Wellington.
Garner enough ball, and create enough space on the edge, and the outside back department is typically lethal. Ben Lam, Salesi Rayasi, in his second season, Vince Aso and Wes Goosen all possess quality finishing prowess.
As has been the case with the Highlanders in recent years, the Hurricanes may struggle with depth at halfback when forced to rotate their All Blacks. And as is true of all New Zealand teams, quality locks are in short supply.
Matt Proctor's intelligent midfield contributions will also be missed.
Considering the turbulence they've encountered, the Hurricanes aren't in a terrible space.
This season can be approached with the pressure off, opening the door to the possibility of becoming the surprise package.
But after a sustained period of capturing and challenging for titles, a slide back to the pack seems probable.
Hurricanes squad changes:
IN: Tyrel Lomax (Highlanders), Scott Scrafton (Blues), Murphy Taramai (Glendale Rangers), Jamie Booth (Sunwolves), Jonathan Taumateine (Chiefs), Kobus van Wyk (Sharks), Pouri Rakete-Stones (Hawke's Bay), Devan Flanders (Hawke's Bay)
OUT: Matt Proctor (Northampton), Sam Lousi (Scarlets), Toby Smith (retirement), Beauden Barrett (Blues), Finlay Christie (Blues), Chris Eves (San Diego Legion), Jeffery Toomaga-Allen (Wasps), Richard Judd (Suntory Sungoliath), Sam Henwood (NEC Green Rockets), Nehe Milner-Skudder (Toulon)