Team Preview: Chiefs

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Saturday, February 17, 2018    Getty Images

Home: FMG Stadium, Hamilton, Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Last Season: Sixth

Solomon Alaimalo, Michael Allardice, Tyler Ardron, Dominic Bird, Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Sam Cane, Johnny Fa'auli, Tiann Falcon, Mitchell Graham, Kane Hames, Nathan Harris, Fin Hoeata, Luke Jacobson, Mitchell Karpik, Sosefo Kautai, Nepo Laulala, Anton Lienert-Brown, Damian McKenzie, Marty McKenzie, Sam McNichol, Liam Messam, Atunaisa Moli, Tim Nanai-Williams, Alex Nankivell, Charlie Ngatai, Liam Polwart, Toni Pulu, Brodie Retallick, Aidan Ross, Taleni Seu, Shaun Stevenson, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Brad Weber, Regan Verney, Samisoni Taukei'aho, Levi Aumua, Jonathan Taumateine


Game breaker:
If there is one player in New Zealand who will face ongoing scrutiny throughout the season it will be Damian McKenzie. Having been long in coach Colin Cooper's plans as a first five-eighths, McKenzie will have the chance to establish himself in his preferred position instead of the fullback role which has been good enough to see him included in the All Blacks. Aaron Cruden's departure opened up the chance to give McKenzie his shot and it will be a case of him settling in with his halfbacks to make the most of the opportunity. It threatens to be an exciting ride but not without its pitfalls as opposing sides look to shut down McKenzie's threat.

Key signing:
Tighthead prop Nepo Laulala is into his third season with the side, although he missed all of 2016 due to injury. However, the extent of his contribution to the 2017 campaign, and his subsequent rise to All Blacks selection, shows how much he brings to the pack. The way in which he adapted throughout Super Rugby, and in his Test opportunities, demonstrated the qualities he brings to his role and which is a superb base from which to build a forward pack. The Chiefs have always relished strength up front and the emerging Laulala fits the bill perfectly.

Returning veteran:
Hooker Nathan Harris has had ups and downs with injury during his career but a consistent programme of games last year brought out the best in his play and offers more evidence of a firming of experience in the Chiefs pack, especially up front where fellow internationals Laulala and Kane Hames in the front row and Brodie Retallick behind, offer an iron core which all sides seek in their bid to compete. He will also have a leadership role in helping the development of younger hookers in the squad Liam Polwart and Samisoni Taukei'aho.

The Scoop:
Fifteen defections from last year, and coach Dave Rennie, have seen new coach Colin Cooper put his own touch to the squad with a significant choice being halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi who will help lift the competition with Brad Weber for the starting role in the absence of Tawera Kerr-Barlow. Another interesting inclusion with the longer term in view is last year's NZ Under-20s captain, loose forward Luke Jacobson who has all the potential to make a big impact for the Chiefs. But with a solid core up front and the exciting ability on show in his backline, Cooper has the makings of a highly-competitive unit for 2018.