Nothing changes for the Crusaders heading into Investec Super Rugby in 2019, they are the hunted, as they have been for much of the competition's history, and that is just how they like it.
Last Season: 1
Home: AMI Stadium
Squad Joe Moody, Michael Alaalatoa, Harrison Allan, Oliver Jager, Owen Franks, Tim Perry, Codie Taylor, Ben Funnell, Andrew Makalio, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Quinten Strange, Mitchell Dunshea, Luke Romano, Billy Harmon, Tom Sanders, Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Ethan Blackadder, Whetu Douglas, Kieran Read, Mitchell Drummond, Bryn Hall, Ere Enari, Richie Mo'unga, Mitchell Hunt, Brett Cameron, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Tim Bateman, Braydon Ennor, George Bridge, Manasa Mataele, Ngane Punavai, David Havili, Israel Dagg, Will Jordan, Leicester Faingaanuku.
Success in the last two seasons would suggest any number of candidates as gamebreakers for the Crusaders but it is hard to go past first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga. There is little doubt that his ability in the last two seasons has played the key role in lifting the side to championship success and with so much in his own career to play for, it is difficult not to see that continuing. Add in the extra experience he has achieved through being part of the All Blacks' camp and it is not unreasonable to expect that he may have an even greater presence in the side this season.
Prop Joe Moody's decision to sign through until 2022 is a welcome boost for the side, giving continuity in a key area of the pack. His time last season was disjointed and while cover emerged there is nothing like the sort of experience he offers, and with Owen Franks moving on at the end of the season that is another reason his decision is important. One of the best looseheads in the world game he gives the side stability where it is needed most and if the Crusaders are to dominate again the men up front need to provide a solid base. Moody will ensure that.
Given that he has already announced his departure from the Crusaders at the end of the 2019 season, the efforts of No.8 Kieran Read will be more appreciated. Injury last season reduced his opportunities with the side and to have the chance to see him at his best, which he said he felt by the end of the 2018 season, should be savoured. A marvellous campaigner for the side during the last decade he has maintained the high example of leadership that is synonymous with the Crusaders and his playing skills aren't too bad either. A season of Read in his pomp would be an outstanding sight.
Some teams facing a situation of two wins of the competition in the two seasons might be happy with their lot, but that has never been the way for the most successful team in Super Rugby history. The modern generation are finding out at first hand just how the legacy within the franchise was created and are making their own contribution. Second is never good enough and once again there will be plenty to play for. What will be a slight tweak on previous seasons will be playing straight through, without the June break, and how that might affect the depth of resource in the side, not only for the Crusaders but all teams. The difference for the Crusaders is depth hasn't been an issue in those last two years.