Possessing the strongest squad on paper arguably of any team, the arresting of a poor sudden death record will see Wellington take their maiden championship.
If you take actual titles out of the equation, there is no team in domestic world rugby with the recent record and pedigree that the Hurricanes wield in Super history. Three times in the last four years they have reached the semi-finals, and in 2006 were runners up in the first Super 14 championship.
Considering as well their outstanding New Zealand provincial record, where in the last three years they have been the runners up to the Air New Zealand Cup. They are also the current holders of the famous Log O’Wood—the Ranfurly Shield.
However, outside of this prestigious trophy, they have not won the New Zealand domestic title since 2000 and have been unable to break Canterbury and Auckland’s grip of power for New Zealand representation of the Super 14.
This year sees coach Colin Cooper with a typically star studded squad that we come to expect from the franchise that has brandished some of the finest players in world rugby, including Christian Cullen, Jonah Lomu, and former All Black captain, Tana Umaga.
Of the men who in 2008 wore an All Black jersey, no less than 13 national representatives are in the Hurricanes team.
The production line of Wellington rugby has ensured that despite player losses, that only one player, New Zealand Maori player Jason Kawau, has been selected from outside the Hurricanes selection region.
The set piece and pack, long regarded as the weak point of Wellington rugby, is no longer a concern for the faithful. Andrew Hore (the Kelvin R Tremain New Zealand rugby player of 2008) and Neemia Tialata are both starting All Blacks and will be backed up by future All Black Dane Coles and vastly experienced props John Schwalger, Tim Fairbrother, and Jacob Ellison.
Jason Eaton continues his renaissance as an international lock and will likely combine with Jeremy Thrush, who was unlucky not to be rewarded with a test cap after a brilliant ANZC.
In the loose forwards, Wellington have an embarrassment of riches, headed by Rodney So’oialo who put a poor 2007 behind him to have a stellar international season including captaining the All Blacks in Richie McCaw’s absence.
New All Black and McCaw’s understudy Scott Waldrom will likely mortgage the open side flank position, which will see five other players vie for the final back row spot.
Many believe it may be former seven’s prodigy Victor Vito who has risen through the New Zealand system and is a heady cross of Jonah Lomu and Sonny Bill Williams. The 1.92 metre 110 kg Vito was one of the fastest players on Wellington’s roster last year and could cause chaos if a strong Hurricanes pack is consistent.
The backline has long been considering the jewel in the crown of Wellington’s power, and this year it appears to be no different.
In the halves, Piri Weepu will likely start, but it could be in either position. While Daniel Kirkpatrick and Willie Ripia are both considered exciting talents in a national pool of 19-21 year old's that seems immense. Back up halfback Alby Mathewson had an outstanding ANZC and Cooper may wish to start him with Weepu playing first five.
Weepu will have lofty goals for 2009. He was named the New Zealand Maori player of the year for 2008, captained the Maori to victory in last year’s Pacific Nations, and the pain on his face in Wellingtons ANZC final loss to Canterbury was very reminisce of McCaw when the All Blacks lost to the Wallabies in Sydney. He also captained the All Blacks against Munster.
In the three quarter line, the Hurricanes depth persists with the All Black midfield of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith likely to continue for Wellington. Both, Nonu in particular, enjoyed excellent test years, but Tamati Ellison, so impressive for Wellington in the ANZC, will keep both players honest.
Deep in the backs, Cory Jane and Hosea Gear were rewarded with imperious late season form to earn All Black call ups, and will ensure that the long known attacking prowess of the Hurricanes will thrive in 2009. Combined with brilliant young Hawkes Bay wing Zac Guilford and the robust David Smith. We round off the team seeing depth and skill all across the team.
With a good draw, that sees them play away only once in the first six weeks, should ensure that the talent laden outfit reaches the top four. If the mental fortitude demonstrated by the All Blacks last year permeates to Wellington, look for the men from the capital to hoist their first title.
Super Rugby roll of honour
Canterbury Crusaders (98,99,00,02,05,06,08)
Auckland Blues (96,97,03)
ACT Brumbies (01,04)
Blue Bulls (07)
Wellington Hurricanes 2009 match schedule
Week one V Waratahs WGTN
Week two V Highlanders WGTN
Week three V Crusaders Christchurch
Week four V Cheetahs New Plymouth
Week five BYE
Week six V Bulls WGTN
Week seven V Lions Johannesburg
Week eight V Sharks Durban
Week nine V Western Force Perth
Week ten V Stormers WGTN
Week eleven V Brumbies WGTN
Week twelve V Blues WGTN
Week thirteen V Chiefs Hamilton
Week fourteen V Reds Brisbane