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After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.

Super Rugby Preview
Title treble not beyond Chiefs - Growden
Greg Growden and Brittany Mitchell
February 14, 2014
Are the Chiefs are positioned to go back-to-back-to-back? © Scrum.com
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Chiefs' Super Rugby 2014 Squad

  • Squad: Ben Afeaki, Bundee Aki, Gareth Anscombe, Sam Cane, Nick Crosswell, Aaron Cruden, Hikawera Elliot, Ross Filipo, Mike Fitzgerald, Robbie Fruean, Josh Hohneck, Andrew Horrell, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Tanerau Latimer, James Lowe, Jamie Mackintosh, Pauliasi Manu, Rhys Marshall, Tom Marshall, Liam Messam, Mils Muliaina, Tim Nanai-Williams, Charlie Ngatai, Augustine Pulu, Brodie Retallick, Robbie Robinson, Mahonri Schwalger, Liam Squire, Matthew Symons, Ben Tameifuna, Kane Thompson, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Ihaia West
  • Chiefs' Super Rugby 2014 Fixtures

It's hard to get to the top, but even harder to stay there. With five current All Blacks as well as 26 players who have previously been involved in winning a Super Rugby title, however, the Chiefs will have experience that will help them in their bid to retain the title again. Greg Growden says they are well placed to chase a hat-trick as they are a tightly knit squad who clearly perform for each other; they have an excellent coaching staff who get the best out of a sometimes unfashionable mob; and they play an aggressive, often exciting brand of football.

Last Season: championship winners, first in New Zealand Conference; another successful season for the Chiefs, who came away from the 2013 series as back-to-back champions after holding out the Brumbies in a tough grand final. A strong side throughout the season, they ended it at the top of the table after scoring the most tries (26) and points (458); the 364 points they conceded, however, was too many.

Jeff Wilson said of the Chiefs in 2013: "Success is the greatest recruiting tool and the Chiefs, in going back-to-back, have demonstrated the ability to get the best out of all their players. If you look across their whole organisation, it's difficult to find any weaknesses. Their playing roster for 2013 had depth across all positions with star players combined with individuals who clearly understood their roles. Read more ...

Russell Barwick and Greg Growden look at the New Zealand Super Rugby conference

Key Man: Aaron Cruden, second to Dan Carter in the New Zealand pecking order, will be instrumental in getting the Chiefs' backline moving forward and using their considerable strength in attack. He scored 102 points last season and ranked second in try assists.

Key Stat: The Chiefs have been boosted by the arrival from Christchurch of Tom Marshall, who made more runs than anyone else (146) for more run metres than everyone bar Israel Folau (1355) while playing for the Crusaders last season. Marshall could yet take high rank among the list of players who develop their career in Hamilton after leaving a rival franchise, but only once on deck after his off-season thumb injury.

Rising Star: Sam Cane played in 16 matches last season, starting nine and scoring two tries as he made the No.7 jumper his own. He sat behind only Liam Gill, George Smith and Rene Ranger with the most pilfers in 2013, and we think he will start more often as his star continues in the ascendant, and that he will provide ever-better back-up to Richie McCaw at Test level.

Super Rugby 2014: Team-by-team

© SANZAR (Image Supplied)

Season Preview: Proving they were still a champion side even without Sonny Bill Williams, the Chiefs will look to continue to employ their game play that has proved so effective. They have a mixed squad with proven performers and seven players moving into Super Rugby for the first time after earning selection through the ITM Cup. The Chiefs are huge contenders for the trophy, but the "three-peat" campaign will be hard work and they will have to contend with a strong challenge in New Zealand from seven-time champions the Crusaders.

Greg Growden's verdict: It's a big call to suggest the Chiefs can win three Super Rugby titles in a row, but it is not beyond them. There are many factors working in their favour: they are a tightly knit squad in which the players clearly perform for each other; they have an excellent coaching staff headed by Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith, who are able to get the best out of a sometimes unfashionable mob; and they play an aggressive, often exciting brand of football. Their midfield attack is exhilarating when on song, as shown by them last year making the most clean breaks (161) in the tournament. This is a team that thrives on confidence, not surprising when they have become accustomed to carrying big trophies around at the end of tournament finals. Mils Muliaina is an interesting inclusion on his return from Japan, and he will help the province overcome the loss of their captain, Craig Clarke.

Tip: First in New Zealand Conference. Finish: Winners.


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