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Team Preview: The Hurricanes

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Thursday, February 23, 2017    allblacks.com    Getty Images

Home: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Last Season: Champions

Squad:
Forwards: Chris Eves, Reggie Goodes, Ben May, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Loni Uhila, Mike Kainga, Dane Coles, Leni Apisai, Ricky Ricciteli, Mark Abbott, James Broadhurst, Geoff Cridge, Michael Fatialofa, Sam Lousi, Callum Gibbins, Vaea Fifita, Reed Prinsep, Hugh Renton, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields, Blade Thomson, Toa Halafihi.

Backs: TJ Perenara, Te Toiria Tahuiorangi, Kylem O'Donnell, Beauden Barrett, Otere Black, Vince Aso, Ngani Laumape, Matt Proctor, Pita Ahki, Wes Goosen, Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Ben Lam, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Jordie Barrett.

PODCAST: DANE COLES PREVIEWS THE HURRICANES SEASON

Game breaker:
After missing the majority of the 2016 season through injury, the Hurricanes will be glad to welcome back Nehe Milner-Skudder into their back three. Milner-Skudder was a breakout star in Super Rugby 2015 and had opposition defenders confounded by his incredible side stepping ability. Despite the long injury lay off, Milner-Skudder was back at his evasive best in the preseason Brisbane Tens tournament and will form a potent back three with fellow All Blacks Julian Savea and Cory Jane.

Key signing:

The signature of Under 20s star Jordie Barrett was highly sought after for the 2017 season. Despite starring for Canterbury in the Mitre 10 Cup last year, the 19-year-old fullback opted to join his brother Beauden at the Hurricanes rather than sign on with the Crusaders. Able to slot in the midfield or at fullback, Barrett is a strong ball runner, fierce defender and accurate goal kicker. An All Blacks apprentice on the 2016 Northern Tour, an impressive debut Super Rugby season could see Barrett push for even higher honours this year.

Returning veteran:
Since debuting for the Hurricanes in 2009, Dane Coles has racked up 94 Super Rugby caps and cemented his place as one of the finest front rowers in the world. While his set-piece play is superb, Coles is unmatched with ball in hand and adds another attacking layer to the Hurricanes offense. As a leader, Coles led the Hurricanes to their first Super Rugby title in his first year in charge. Coles has spoken of his desire to leave a lasting legacy at the Hurricanes and back-to-back titles will surely do just that.

The scoop:
As reigning champions the Hurricanes will be targeted by all teams in 2017. With a strong squad and handy recruits like Jordie Barrett and Reed Prinseep and the return from injury of Nehe Milner-Skudder, the Hurricanes should be in the calculations come playoff time again. If they can stay relatively injury free then they could well pick up a second straight title.