AUCKLAND, NZ – We’re less than one week out from the start of the premier pro competition in the Southern Hemisphere and the anticipation is, well, pretty non-existent at the moment. As usual, it’s still officially summer here in the part of the world, which means people are a little more interested in going swimming and having barbecues than watching footy. In fact, the only sport that will be really capturing the public’s attention will be the Cricket World Cup, being hosted here and in Australia over the next couple of months. Those greedy cricketers have gone so far as to making sure that Auckland’s local Super Rugby team The Blues have been turfed out of their Eden Park home for their first game next Friday.
So, with that hardly glowing endorsement for a competition that ironically reached it’s high water mark last year in terms of playoff intrigue, entertainment (certainly since the first couple of seasons anyway) and a grand final that delivered in all possible departments, it’s time to have a look at some players that could star in 2015. I’ve broken them up into two categories:
On The Radar: Established players that will look to press on impressive efforts last season to hopefully figure prominently around World Cup time.
Under The Radar: Players who have a huge opportunity make their mark on the competition this year.
Seta Tamanivalu, Chiefs midfielder
Why He’s Under The Radar: There’s one midfield back that everyone knows about in the Chiefs this year (Sonny Bill Williams), but this guy will probably be the one that should make a few headlines of his own this season. Tamanivalu had an outstanding ITM Cup in 2014 for Taranaki and already has had his name mentioned in the same sentences as the words ‘black jersey’.
Joe Edwards, Blues loose forward
Why He’s Under The Radar: Following the outstanding success of Patrick Tuipolotu last year, there’s no reason why Edwards can’t follow in his similar sized footsteps. He’s had a few years of top flight rugby under his belt now and hopefully the Blues can get their act together to give him a platform to perform, not that Tuipolotu needed it last year as they were rubbish for the most part.
Nathan Harris/Keven Mealamu/Hika Elliott, Chiefs and Blues hookers
Why They Are On The Radar: Because someone has to step up and be the one who will ride the pine behind Dane Coles when the All Blacks begin their defense of the World Cup. Harris got his shot last year cruelly cut short by injury, Elliott is has international experience and potentially a bit of X-factor if he can recapture form and Mealamu has been around since the dawn of time.
Nic Stirzaker, Rebels halfback
Why He’s Under the Radar: He’s down at the Rebels, a team that barely rates a mention at the best of times. It’s a tough ask for a halfback to shine behind a pack that might be going backwards all season, but given the Wallabies problems at 9, he has every chance to put his case forward. Plus, the Aussies seem to like selecting guys called ‘Nic’ or ‘Nick’ at halfback, so he’s got that going for him.
Bernard Foley, Waratahs first five
Why He’s On The Radar: Because he’s the man who stepped up when the Waratahs needed him to, in the 79th minute of the highest attended grand final in Super Rugby. Can he provide the go-forward to turn the Tahs from champions to a dynasty? Given that one of his main challenges for the Wallabies 10 jersey, Quade Cooper, is out for the first 12 weeks of the comp, Foley has no excuses not to.
Karmichael Hunt, Reds back
Why He’s On And Under The Radar: Hunt’s return to Suncorp Stadium has surprised many, as it was thought that’s it be in a Brisbane Broncos jersey rather than a Reds one. The former NRL star who tried his hand at AFL with stints in French and Japanese rugby in between is a complete unknown quantity and given the afore-mentioned affliction to Cooper, may even get a run at first five. Mention also to another returning player that may have an interesting season, James O’Connor.
South African Conference
Nizaam Carr, Stormers loose forward
Why He’s Under The Radar: While Carr made it into a Bok jersey by the end of 2014, he had to spend his Super Rugby season slogging it out in a turgid and desperately unlucky Stormers side. Hopefully they can play a slightly more attractive style that can showcase his potential.
Handre Pollard, Bulls first five
Why He’s On The Radar: The Springboks completely shattered one of the things you could could count on them doing over their entire history by selecting Pollard, a young, inexperienced, somewhat up and down player in the all-important 10 jersey. He benefitted from the Bulls having rebuilding season last year and giving him regular game time over more established players, but now in 2015 he’s most definitely the man.
Mouritz Botha, Sharks lock
Why He’s Under The Radar: No spring chicken at age 33, Botha is one of those rare inter-hemisphere players that has made the move from north to south to round out his career. While he is admittedly a South African by birth, his entire pro career has been in the English Premiership, with over 100 games for Saracens and 10 caps for England. It’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts to the southern game.
There’s some players to keep an eye on from all three conferences in the upcoming Super Rugby season. Yes, the early rounds are going to be a tough slog (much like last year). Yes, the end result is going to be rendered somewhat meaningless given that the World Cup by far and away the most important thing happening this year. And yes, when the season kicks off here in Auckland there will be around 10 times more people across town watching a cricket match between NZ and Sri Lanka. But if it can cook up anything like this, the incredible final moments of last year’s epic final, then it’ll be well worth tuning in for eventually:
So did I miss anyone out? Probably. Let us know who you’ll be keeping tabs on this season. Special thanks to my learned friend Stephen Reynard for helping me compile this list, he’s got an educated view on footy and sport in general that you can follow on Twitter: @poneke09. I’ll be back during the week with more of a buildup to kickoff next weekend.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUp, Jamie Wall, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.