2018 is the year of big changes at the Chiefs.
Their iconic coach, Dave Rennie, has left them to go and expand his horizons overseas. He is replaced by the very capable and experienced Collin Cooper. Cooper’s rugby CV is impressive, having coached Taranaki, the New Zealand Colts, assisting at the Crusaders, and leading the coaching team at the Hurricanes for three seasons and taking them to the semi-finals on three occasions, and on to the final in 2006. He coached the Junior All Blacks for two seasons. Since 2013 he has been involved in coaching the New Zealand Maori team. He has been back at Taranaki since 2010.
The Chiefs have lost a couple of big name players, with Aaron Cruden having gone off to Montpellier and Stephen Donald dropping down to provincial rugby in what is probably his last year before retiring from the game. Hika Elliot has gone to hook in the Oyonnax scrum, while Michael Leitch has committed to the Sunwolves. James Lowe is over in Leinster, Tawera Kerr-Barlow has joined La Rochelle, Tom Sanders has joined Crusaders and Finlay Christie is going to the Hurricanes.
These players were an essential part of the Chiefs squad that has performed so well in the last two or three years, and they will be difficult to replace.
They have not signed too many big names either, so they will have to reply on their home-bred squad for the year ahead. Newly recruited players are Tyler Ardron has signed from the Ospreys, Marty McKenzie is back from his stint at the Crusaders, joining up with his brother again. The only other Super Rugby franchise signing is Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi from the Hurricanes.
The core of the Chiefs pack remains pretty solid, with the likes of Retallick, Bird, Harris, Cane and Messam, although the latter has confirmed that he is heading for Toulon at the end of the 208 Super season.
The single biggest talking point for the 2018 season will be the deployment of Damian McKenzie as flyhalf. He has been very successful at 15 for the Chiefs and the All Blacks, but all the talk is about his future as a 10. This will be interesting! He has some serious striking power outside him, with the likes of Charlie Ngatai, Anton Lienert-Brown, Tony Pulu, Tim Nanai-Williams, and his brother Marty McKenzie too.
The loss of Tarawa Kerr-Barlow might hurt somewhat especially if Brad Webber gets injured or misfires.
A new coach, the loss of a host of core players, and a new halfback pairing.. it could get interesting!
The Chiefs Squad for 2018 is:
Forwards: Liam Polwart, Nathan Harris, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Aidan Ross, Atu Moli, Kane Hames, Mitchell Graham, Nepo Laulala, Sosefo Kautai, Brodie Retallick, Dominic Bird, Fin Hoeata, Michael Allardice, Lachlan Boshier, Liam Messam, Luke Jacobson, Mitchell Brown, Mitchell Karpik, Sam Cane, Taleni Seu, Tyler Ardron
Backs: Brad Weber, Jonathan Taumateine, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Damian McKenzie, Marty McKenzie, Tiaan Falcon, Alex Nankivell, Anton Lienert-Brown, Charlie Ngatai, Johnny Fa’auli, Regan Verney, Levi Aumua, Sam McNicol, Shaun Stevenson, Solomon Alaimalo, Toni Pulu, Tim Nanai-Williams
Changes to the squad are as follows:
Tyler Ardron (Ospreys)
Levi Aumua (Tasman)
Fin Hoeata (Taranaki)
Tiaan Falcon (Hawke’s Bay)
Luke Jacobson (Waikato)
Marty McKenzie (Crusaders)
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Hurricanes)
Regan Verney (Wellington)
Finlay Christie (Hurricanes)
Aaron Cruden (Montpellier)
Stephen Donald (Counties Manukau)
Hika Elliot (Oyonnax)
Siegfried Flsiihoi (Stade Francais)
Glen Fisiiahi (Counties Manukau)
Tawera Kerr-Balow (La Rochelle)
Michael Leitch (Sunwolves)
James Lowe (Leinster)
Matiaha Martin (Counties Manukau)
Brayden Mitchell (Southland)
Tom Sanders (Crusaders)
Sebastian Siataga (Bay of Plenty)
Chase Tiatia (Bay of Plenty)
James Tucker (Waikato)