With the Mitre 10 Cup start and the end of Super Rugby Aotearoa fast approaching or finished in the case of the Chiefs, I thought it would be good to have a look into just what each franchise needs. This is the fourth part of a five-part series, today looking at the Chiefs.
The Chiefs have had a disastrous season. 0-8, it doesn’t get much worse than that. They were nowhere near that bad, but it was what it was. Looking ahead to next season, Clayton McMillan will be there at this stage as an interim coach as Warren Gatland heads away with the British and Irish Lions, although with COVID it would not be a surprise to see Gatland still involved in some capacity. Regardless, on to the squad. It would not be at all a surprise to see the current front-rowers all return. That being, Ryan Coxon, Aidan Ross, Reuben O’Neil, Nepo Laulala, Angus Ta’avao, Atu Moli, Bradley Slater, Samasoni Taukei’aho and Nathan Harris, who missed the past season with an injury. At lock, it should also be much of the same, with youngsters Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Laghlan McWhannell and Tupou Vaa’i joining the returning Brodie Retallick and Michael Allardice, although he may potentially depart. Tyler Ardron has already departed. Loose forward is a place where the Chiefs will look to strengthen. Utility forward Mitch Brown should return, while Lachlan Boshier, Sam Cane and Mitch Karpik will continue as strong openside trio. Luke Jacobson will look to get back to his best next season, while Pita Gus Sowakula will look to build on a strong season. It would be a surprise to see Dylan Nel and Adam Thomson retained, so they will need replacing. The Chiefs are fine at halfback, with Brad Weber likely to return along with Lisati Milo-Harris. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi will be looking to impress the new coach as he looks to rebuild his career. Similar to the Hurricanes, the Chiefs are very much in the market for first fives. Kaleb Trask has the inside running for the job, as Aaron Cruden and Tiaan Falcon depart for Japan. Moving into the midfield, where Anton Lienert-Brown is the only midfielder secured for next season. Tumua Manu is off to Pau, while Orbyn Leger has seen little game time. Bailyn Sullivan has seen no game time, while Quinn Tupaea has flattered to deceive as the season has gone on. Alex Nankivell started at second-five the last few games, but he is off-contract and I have touted him for a move to the Highlanders, so for the sake of interest, I am going to treat it as if he is leaving. Finally in the outside backs, even though I have mentioned things about him going to the Highlanders, Damian McKenzie will likely be playing for the Chiefs next season. Sean Wainui, Shaun Stevenson, Solomon Alaimalo and Kini Naholo will battle for the spots on the wing, while Sam McNicol might struggle to get a deal. Etene Nanai-Seturo rounds out the current squad, and his situation depends on the Olympics, and whether he decides to plays sevens.
WHAT THEY NEED
Now that it has been broken down, I believe the Chiefs will be looking for two loose forwards, two first fives and two midfielders.
Starting in the loose, the Chiefs look solid, but there is room for improvement. I feel these two players need to young and hungry. I am specifically looking for a No.8 to challenge Sowakula, and a blindside flanker. The number eight is very obvious for me, young Bay of Plenty player, Ajay Lafaele-Mua. Already mentioned for the Hurricanes, I feel Lafaele-Mua has a big future, so would be a shrewd addition for the Chiefs. Joining him is very much a lottery. Ultimately whoever comes in, won’t start therefore they should look for someone from the Mitre 10 Cup (If it goes ahead). The person who fills the role does not necessarily for the now and could be someone like a Mitch Jacobson who has dabbled at this level before, or it could a returning player like a Dan Pryor. In all likelihood, this will just be a youngster who puts in a strong showing for Waikato.
Option: Ajay Lafaele-Mua and a M10 Cup Standout
The second target position for the Chiefs will be first five. Whilst Dan Hollinshead and Lincoln McClutchie could be options, I believe they will end up at the Hurricanes and the Highlanders respectively. This leaves just two options, who whilst boring seem fairly realistic. First is Bryn Gatland. Gatland is off-contract and feels nailed on to link up with his father back in his home region. An underrated ball runner and an excellent kicker, he could well end up as the Chiefs starting first five, although Kaleb Trask will have something to say about. The other man who I feel will join them is Fletcher Smith. Likely to leave the Hurricanes, Smith is also an option at fullback. As a third choice first five they could do a lot worse.
Option: Bryn Gatland and Fletcher Smith
Finally, the Chiefs need to bulk up their midfield. With Alex Nankivell potentially departing, the Chiefs need someone who can come in and start in the midfield, preferably a second five, whilst they could also do with another second five to bulk the squad out. With Nankivell potentially bound for the Highlanders, then I feel Rob Thompson could be a decent option to go in the other direction. Thompson has lost his way and his place in the side down south, but he could well be the perfect crash-bash midfielder for Warren Gatland. Whether he plays 12 or 13, it does not matter. Young Daniel Rona could be one to watch for the other spot. Recently out of school, he will be looking to make an impact for Taranaki in the Mitre 10 Cup. If the Chiefs are looking for more experience, then Tei Walden would not be the worst option.
Option: Rob Thompson and Daniel Rona
What if. What if, Damian McKenzie is to depart? I see this as unlikely considering he has a contract, but I have been told the Highlanders are sniffing around and could the draw to go south be too much for the Southlander to resist? What would the Chiefs do? Solomon Alaimalo and Shaun Stevenson have flattered to deceive, so investing in a fullback could be a good option anyway. Could a guy like Jordan Trainor fix the issues? I see that as unlikely, he is already 24, and if you have not cracked it by then, guys don’t tend to crack it. I suggested Josh Moorby could go to the Crusaders, but he is a product of Hamilton Boys, so he could be a decent wildcard, and the lure of game time is something he values. This is merely food for thought, and Moorby could be a solid edition, but I suggested he could end up at the Crusaders, all be it that feels extremely unlikely. Therefore, I am going to name him twice.
Option: Josh Moorby
The Chiefs can only improve for 2021. Whatever the format, with COVID about they are unlikely to see major squad overhauls. With Ajay Lafaele-Mua and a Mitre Cup standout joining the loose forwards, their young forward pack will back themselves to improve once more. First five is important for the Chiefs, and Bryn Gatland shapes as a low-risk option. He is likely to battle it out with Kaleb Trask and Fletcher Smith in an intriguing battle. Finally, in midfield, Rob Thompson could well be a shrewd signing, while young Daniel Rona could be a good project signing. If Damian McKenzie was to leave, it would certainly throw another spanner into the works
Ryan Coxon, Aidan Ross, Reuben O’Neil, Angus Ta’avao, Nepo Laulala, Atu Moli, Nathan Harris, Samasoni Taukei’aho, Bradley Slater, Brodie Retallick, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Michael Allardice, Tupou Vaa’I, Laghlan McWhannell, Mitch Brown, Luke Jacobson, Lachlan Boshier, Sam Cane, Mitch Karpik, Pita Gus Sowakula, Ajay Lafaele-Mua, M10 Cup Standout, Brad Weber, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Lisati Milo-Harris, Bryn Gatland, Kaleb Trask, Fletcher Smith, Anton Lienert-Brown, Rob Thompson, Quinn Tupaea, Bailyn Sullivan, Daniel Rona, Kini Naholo, Sean Wainui, Shaun Stevenson, Solomon Alaimalo, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Damian McKenzie, Josh Moorby
Who knows what is going to happen in the crazy COVID climate, but be sure to keep yourself posted, as I will look to get the Blues one out by Monday!
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