Season preview: Mitre 10 Cup

Date published: August 13 2016

1024x768__origin__0x0_Canterbury_head_coach_Scott_Robertson

The 2016 Mitre 10 Cup kicks off next week as holders Canterbury look to make it eight domestic titles after winning last season's trophy.

Canterbury won 25-23 against Auckland in 2015's final and once again are strong on paper, despite missing several All Black players.

A youngster to look out for will be centre Jordie Barrett, brother of Scott and Beauden, while Richie Mo'unga, Tom Sanders, Rob Thompson and Daniel Lienert-Brown all had good Super Rugby campaigns with their respective franchises. Johnny McNicholl is also in excellent form.

But who will be Scott Robertson's team's big challengers? Well a surprise package could well be the newly-promoted Hawke's Bay, who boast the likes of Brad Weber and Ihaia West as their half-back combination while Ash Dixon, Ricky Riccitelli, Tony Lamborn, Shannan Chase and Sam McNicol are all quality players. If the Magpies can finish mid-table and in the frame at the business end then that would surely be viewed as a successful campaign.

The usual suspects such as Auckland will of course fancy their chances after the Blues' strong end-of-season form and expect their back-row options, including Akira Ioane, to impose themselves on the tournament. Losing George Moala to the All Blacks however leaves a hole.

Tasman finished third last year, winning seven games out of ten, and have a solid spine. Liam Squire, Shane Christie, Marty Banks, David Havili, Kieron Fonotia and James Lowe will pose a threat to all teams and Banks and Fonotia in particular will be keen for fond farewells.

Elsewhere it is hard not to say Waikato and not immediately think of Damian McKenzie. Not wanted by the All Blacks, for the time being at least, the Chiefs full-back played fly-half for the Mooloos last season, which is a position they have decent depth in. Sam Christie and Stephen Donald's qualities may yet then see McKenzie wear 15 while Willis Halaholo and Anton Lienert-Brown have the potential to impress as a midfield combination.

Counties Manukau will count on the dynamism of Jordan Taufua and Augustine Pulu for their drive but it's difficult to see them up challenging at the top half of the table while 2014 winners Taranaki are set to be without Waisake Naholo, Seta Tamanivalu and Beauden Barrett for the large part, if not all, of their campaign. It's going to be an uphill struggle for the Steelers and 'Naki one feels at the basement as the rest push for the play-offs.

Mitre 10 Cup Premiership
Our predicted final standings

1 Canterbury
2 Auckland
3 Tasman
4 Hawke's Bay
5 Waikato
6 Taranaki
7 Counties Manukau

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