7 Feb

Hurricanes '04 Preview
by Zand Moloney
7 Feb 2004

Well summer is here and my mind is focused on one thing, Super 12 rugby and the exploits of my beloved Hurricanes.

For the first time I am filled with genuine optimism, as opposed to blind faith, that things will go well. Normally I am happy if we are not the worst performing New Zealand franchise, now my expectations are a lot higher.

The first reason for this is coach Colin Cooper who did magnificently last year. The ‘Canes were a revelation with good solid forward play augmenting the slick back play that the lads have always been famous for. Cooper drilled the need for a forward platform, and discipline into the team and the results were there to see. Although struggling against the big three of the Blues, Brumbies and Crusaders towards the end I have little doubt that Colin Cooper is by far and away the best man for the job, and one of the best coaches in the country.

Backing up his technical nous is his ability to attract talent to the region, Joe McDonnell, who has been on the fringe of All Black selection, has joined the WRFU along with Tane Tuipulutu who has undoubted talent but cannot justify a regular place in the Auckland teams blessed as they are with so many great midfield backs. Also picking up Hosea Gear on the draft adds to the level in the backline. The reduction of the number of draft players this season also shows how far the franchise has come since the inauguration of the Super 12. Initially we had a hodge-podge of players coming in on the draft from all round the country as far away as Northland and King Country. Now we only have a few players coming in, and all are top quality, either in teams which are not one of the main unions or are behind incumbents at their regions Super 12 team.

I also believe that with the taste of semi-final rugby that the ‘Canes got last year gives them an idea of what the standard required is and that the team will be more prepared should they make that level again. The All Black selection of Collins, So’oailo and Nonu means we have another three players who have made the grade at the highest level and they will be battle hardened from the experience and can share this with the rest of the squad.

One of the only things that has dulled this sense of optimism is the loss of Christian Cullen and Jonah Lomu with one going overseas and another ruled out by illness. Lomu loss was felt last year, but with Brent Ward playing so well the ‘Canes managed to deal with it. That said Jonah is a game breaker with few peers and it is very sad that we will not be able to see him play this season, and possibly ever again, all the best big man.

Personally though I think the loss of Cullen will be greater. He has been there from the start and was always one of our best, if not the best player in the franchise. My favourite memory of Cullen was the game against the Waratahs at McLean park in Napier in 1997 where he managed to run the length of the field, and through the entire Waratahs defence to score under the posts. His ability find gaps from fullback, break the line and make try saving tackles is unparalleled and I doubt we will ever truly replace him. Even last year, with a knee injury robbing him of speed, he still showed what world class skill he has. I wish him all the best at Munster but can’t help thinking it would be better for New Zealand to see him pulling on the Hurricanes jersey at least one more time.
Overall I think that anything less than a semi-final place would be a disappointment from the Hurricanes, this team has experience and skill and within the addition of many of the NPC finalist Wellington Lions, youthful enthusiasm.

Now they seemingly have got rid of the inconsistency tag that dogged them over previous season, now they just have to prove to themselves and us long suffering supporters that they are up to the standards of the Blues, Crusaders and the Brumbies.

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