Before the start of Super Rugby 2016 we take a closer look at each of the sides in the competition. Next up, the Hurricanes.
Arguably the best Super Rugby team in 2015, last year's runners-up must rebuild as Chris Boyd starts his second season in charge.
The loss of four of their most experienced players will surely be felt, but the 'Canes nevertheless still have a very strong looking squad and must be considered title contenders.
Last Year: Oh the agony! Having dominated the regular season, the 'Canes went into the 2015 Final as favourites on home soil but stumbled at the last hurdle in what was the farewell game for a handful of franchise stalwarts. Inspired by prodigal son Ma'a Nonu – who returned to Wellington to produce his best Super Rugby season in ages – the 'Canes lost just two of their 16 regular-season games to finish top of the overall standings. Despite having to wait until Round Seven to play their first game in Wellington, the Hurricanes were unbeaten in their first eight matches. Boyd's team scored more tries than any other side and – perhaps more importantly – also topped the charts in the tackling stats. The final proved a bridge too far as the Highlanders won 21-14, despite yet another try-scoring effort from Nonu.
This Year: Considering their list of departures, it would be amazing if the 'Canes could repeat last year's wonder season. Veterans like Nonu, Conrad Smith, Ben Franks and Jeremy Thrush – all Hurricanes with over 100 Super Rugby caps – will be near-impossible to replace. Once again they have a tough start to the season with three games on the road… make that four games if you include hosting the Force in Palmerston North. They do have some exciting new youngsters however and ran twelve tries past the Crusaders in a pre-season game, suggesting they are already firing on all cylinders.
Key Players: 2015 World Cup-winning hooker Dane Coles has taken over the captaincy and will be assisted by fellow All Black, TJ Perenara. Beyond their leadership, if they can back up their incredible form of last year, they'll set the 'Canes on the right path. Julian Savea and Nehe Milner-Skudder will provide a serious attacking threat out wide while keeping Beauden Barrett injury-free could be decisive.
Players to Watch: Veteran All Black Cory Jane had a nightmare with injuries in 2015, but he's back and will bring invaluable experience to a young backline. Flanker Ardie Savea is knocking hard at the All Blacks' door while Rugby League convert Ngani Laumape and former Baby Black Vince Aso have some very big shoes to fill in midfield.
Prospects: It's always tough to make a call on a team that has lost so many big names, but the Hurricanes will expect to make the quarter-finals, at least. Considering the amount of experience no longer there, it may be tough to get past the semis.
Players In: Loni Uhila (Waikato), Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Taranaki), Pita Ahki (Blues), Ngani Laumape (New Zealand Warriors)
Players Out: Ben Franks (London Irish), Jeremy Thrush (Gloucester), Chris Smylie (Treviso), Rey Lee-Lo (Cardiff Blues), Ma'a Nonu (Toulon), Conrad Smith (Pau), Sam McNicol (Chiefs)
Friday, 26 February v Brumbies (GIO Stadium, Canberra)
Saturday, 5 March v Highlanders (Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin)
Friday, 11 March v Blues (Eden Park, Auckland)
Friday, 18 March v Force (Central Energy Trust Arena, Palmerston North)
Friday, 25 March v Kings (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Round 6: BYE
Saturday, 9 April v Jaguares (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Friday, 15 April v Rebels (AAMI Park, Melbourne)
Saturday, 23 April v Chiefs (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Saturday, 30 April v Lions (Ellis Park, Johannesburg)
Saturday, 7 May v Sharks (Kings Park, Durban)
Saturday, 14 May v Reds (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Round 13: BYE
Friday, 27 May v Highlanders (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Saturday, 2 July v Blues (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Saturday, 9 July v Waratahs (Allianz Stadium, Sydney)
Saturday, 16 July v Crusaders (AMI Stadium, Christchurch)