They’re lacking the rock stars of last year but the Hurricanes reckon they have the game plan and momentum to push one step further and claim a maiden Super Rugby title.
Thunderous form over the last month, mixed with some final-round luck, left the Hurricanes top-qualifiers for a second straight season and hosting the Sharks in a quarter-final on Saturday.
They defied commentators who described the departure of All Blacks Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Jeremy Thrush and Ben Franks to Europe as debilitating.
Combine that with season-ending injuries to Test pair Nehe Milner-Skudder and James Broadhurst and many reckoned the team from the capital had blown their best championship chance in last year’s final loss to the Highlanders.
Fullback James Marshall is impressed with how a bunch of Super Rugby rookies have seamlessly filled the holes and compares the team’s form of the last month to last year’s brilliant regular season campaign.
“On paper we’re not as strong but this year we’ve shown that if the team’s on the same page, it’s far more effective than having one or two players that you rely on,” he said.
“We’re coming into the finals with similar momentum, even though we started off a lot slower than last year.”
Marshall says halves Beauden Barrett and TJ Perenara have matured in their game management.
The fullback and Taranaki captain also plays a key decision-making role and believes that part of their game will be vital in knockout games.
“I thought we handled the playoffs pretty well last year but obviously not well enough to get the prize.
“A lot of us were new to it last year. This year we know what to expect.”
Marshall leaves soon for English club London Irish, where he will playing alongside Franks.
He was disappointed to see they were promoted from the Premiership last season but relishes the challenge of returning them to the top flight.
He is also looking forward to seeing brother Tom, the former Crusaders and Chiefs fullback, whose first season at Gloucester was ruined by a knee injury.