All Blacks players' reputations under scrutiny in Super Rugby
Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/news/110584574/-

2019-02-15 03:55:28

It's time for the Stuff rugby writers to earn their coin.

Charged with the task of making predictions ahead of the Super Rugby season, they know they're likely to cop flak for putting their thoughts into writing. Rightly so.

That's because plenty of New Zealanders have an opinion when it comes to discussing the national game. Whether it be journalists, keyboard warriors, the work-shy bar fly at the local boozer, or a surgeon in a private hospital, you can have a cracking conversation on the what, if and whys of Super Rugby.

The Stuff scribblers have strapped on their tin hats, and taken the plunge. Here's their views on some topics in Super Rugby.

RICHARD KNOWLER

Winner: Crusaders.

Lame duck team: Rebels could struggle to give the mediocre Aussie conference a shake.

All Black with a point to prove: Jordie Barrett at the Hurricanes.

Top try scorer: Manasa Mataele has looked sharp in pre-seaon at the Crusaders.

Player to watch: Hooker Malcolm Marx makes it worthwhile to click into Lions' games

Best rookie: Salesi Rayasi (Hurricanes).

Most innovative coach: Leon MacDonald at the Blues: especially if he can get the best out of Ma'a Nonu.

Fans could with less of this: Bucked tooth hillbillies posing as supporters while effing and blinding at refs in front of families.

ROB VAN ROYEN

Winner: Hard to go past the Crusaders, who haven't won the title during a World Cup year since 1999.

Lame duck team: Reds. If coach Brad Thorn isn't already wondering what he's doing, he will be by the close of 2019.

All Black with a point to prove: Waisake Naholo fell out of favour with the national selectors after a dour performance against Japan in November. Needs a big Super campaign to get back on the horse.

Top try scorer: Aphiwe Dyanti. All Blacks fans should remember the Lions flyer after he gassed Kieran Read's mob for two tries in the Springboks' 36-34 win in  Wellington last year.

Player to watch: Beauden Barrett. Time for him to show if he deserves the 'best first-five eighth in the world' tag - the one many insist on giving him.

Best rookie: Tom Robinson. The Blues could have a gem in the Northland flanker, who can also play lock. The 24-year-old stands at 1.98m tall, weighs in at 110kg, and anyone who watched the Taniwha last year will know he has a tremendous motor.

Most innovative coach: Leon MacDonald, the man tasked with hauling the Blues from the offal pit.

Fans could do with less of this: Players marching out from under the posts to plead their case to a referee. Highlanders co-captain Ben Smith got a slap on the wrist early last season for it, yet the problem persisted.

AARON GOILE

Winner: Crusaders. A repeat of the three-peat is on.

Lame duck team: Bulls. A pale imitation of the force of old.

All Black with point to prove: Sonny Bill Williams. Had an injury-plagued last year, and there's a heap of other quality midfield options around for the World Cup.

Top try scorer: George Bridge. He's in a side laden with quality, and will be hungry after an All Blacks debut last year.

Player to watch: Dane Coles. Can a full Super campaign gear him back up to his best-in-the-world status in the global showpiece year?

Best rookie: Etene Nanai-Seturo. A decent amount of game-time in the Chiefs' back-three looms, and he has already showcased x-factor on international sevens stage.

Most innovative coach: Tony Brown. Renowned for cute trick plays and we can expect some inventiveness in his first year with the Sunwolves.

Fans could do with less of this: A competition dominated by New Zealand sides.

PAUL CULLY

Winner: Crusaders. Their depth is superb and they have mastered the art of getting their big All Blacks to perform in Super Rugby.

Lame duck team: Sunwolves. Tony Brown will add something but the lack of buy-in from Japanese rugby bosses means they are almost set up to fail.

All Black with point to prove: Sonny Bill Williams. Can put together a run of games that will allow him to find some form? The body might say no.

Top try scorer: George Bridge. Will get a stack of chances outside Richie Mo'unga and Jack Goodhue and is good enough to take plenty of them.

Player to watch: Akira Ioane. He has the potential to be the best player in the country. He's that good.

Best rookie: Etene Nanai-Seturo. Possesses the gift of appearing to have more time than other players. Old beyond his years.

Most innovative coach: Leon MacDonald. Sure to have a few tricks up his sleeve to exploit the Blues' back line talent.

Fans could do with less of this: The TMOs. It sounds like Sanzaar wants to make the referee the boss again. Good move.

LIAM HYSLOP

Winner: Hurricanes. Sure, the forwards are a concern, but that backline remains the best in the competition.

Lame duck team: Chiefs. They've lost a lot of experience and look the team most likely to get the Blues off the bottom of the New Zealand conference.

All Black with point to prove: Vaea Fifita. If he gets a decent run in the No 6 jersey, he has to start showing the kind of form again which earned him his 2017 debut.

Top try scorer: Ben Lam. Destructive winger in the best backline in the comp.

Player to watch: Ma'a Nonu. It's as intriguing as it is ridiculous to think a 36-year-old can find the form to recapture an All Blacks jersey, but he's the reason a lot of non-Blues fans will be watching their games.

Best rookie: Geoff Cridge. OK, he's 24 and has made his debut, but that lasted eight minutes, so I'm calling him a rookie. With Sam Lousi's injury, he's got a good chance to turn his potential into results at the Hurricanes.

Most innovative coach: Scott Robertson. He'll need to be if he's going to find a path through his All Blacks' rest periods to another successful season.

Fans could do with less of this: Conferences. There's only 15 teams, play them all once then have semifinals.

MARC HINTON

Winner: Crusaders. They love to win 'em in threes and have the depth, firepower and culture to back up again.

Lame duck team: Sunwolves. Have picked up some journeyman performers, but still going to be chasing the standard.

All Black with point to prove: Sonny Bill Williams. Been a while since we've seen him really humming, and Ngani Laumape (and others) are breathing down his neck.

Top try scorer: Rieko Ioane. If the Blues do turn it around, this guy should get on the end of plenty.

Player to watch: Asafo Aumua. Remember him? Lost the plot in 2018 but word is he's fit and ready to make his move, again.

Best rookie: Karl Tu'inukuafe is technically a rookie, and set to play a major role for the Blues. Elsewhere, let's see if Chiefs wing Etene Nanai-Seturo was worth all the effort.

Most innovative coach: It remains Scott Robertson. No one thinks outside the square like this breakdancing, surfing visionary.

Fans could do with less of this: Defending teams slowing ball down. We want the game fast and furious. Stop the negative stuff.

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