Like they have in seasons prior, the Chiefs will field a squad that features a mix of proven performers and unknown young talent ahead of the 2019 Investec Super Rugby campaign.
That unknown talent has a proven track record to defy all expectations in Chiefs country. Don’t believe this pundit? Look no further than last season. Several players with little pedigree went on to become top-level performers and influenced the games that the Chiefs managed to win.
In 2019, the Chiefs keep their members of the core leadership group (Retallick, Cane, McKenzie, Harris, etc). As expected, they welcome some exciting new talent also, such as rising Sevens star Etene Nanai-Seturo and All Blacks wider squad prop Reuben O’Niell.
YOUR GALLAGHER CHIEFS SQUAD FOR 2019 ⏬ #SuperSigningDay
— Chiefs Rugby (@ChiefsRugby) October 30, 2018
Japanese international Ataata Moekiola joins the ranks, and a surprise selection for experienced Super Rugby utility back Jack Debreczeni provides cover in several positions. Debreczeni will be known to New Zealand rugby fans after stints for Northland in the Mitre 10 Cup, and regular selections for the Melbourne Rebels in previous Super Rugby seasons.
Colin Cooper Needs Consistency from Chiefs in 2019
For head coach Colin Cooper, embarking on his new coaching role with the Chiefs wasn’t a daunting experience, but a relishing one. Cooper frequently spoke about being more comfortable at this later point in his coaching career compared to his previous Super Rugby role at the Hurricanes. Added to that, Cooper’s successful time coaching the Maori All Blacks saw the proud Taranaki man arrive in Chiefs country feeling at ease and with little to prove.
Cooper’s first year at the helm was a reasonably successful one all told, but a high number of injuries to key players along the way was an unwelcome reality for a squad that was already depleted of some big names from the year prior. The likes of Aaron Cruden, James Lowe, and Tawera Kerr-Barlow (just to name a few) were gone, leaving some serious pressure on younger players in the backline to fill that void. The likes of Sean Wainui and Soloman Aliamalo stood into their respective roles and stood out in particular.
Injuries to Sam Cane and Brodie Rettallick hampered the forward pack throughout 2018, but it saw players like Mitch Karpik, Michael Allardice, and in particular, big props Karl Tu’inukuafe and Angus Ta’avao really shine when their moment came. Through these brave and forced selections, Cooper showed a keen eye to spot a mixture talent on different ends of the age spectrum, but all of which, with little experience at Super Rugby level.
Individual Stories of Intrigue in Selections for 2019
When you look at this Chiefs squad for 2019 on paper, it reads a lot as you’d expect, with a few exceptions.
Some of the new selections were scouted early on, including new midfielder Bailyn Sullivan. During his time with the Mooloos, Sullivan was reported to have been entering conversations with Chiefs coaches from as early as the opening weeks of the Mitre 10 Cup campaign with the Mooloos.
But for some of the more experienced and well-known names in the squad, like Brad Weber, the 2019 season presents the opportunity for one last shot at higher honors.
When The Real Michael Pulman spoke with Weber recently, the 27-year old said he was still gunning for a spot in the All Blacks ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The one time All Black has consistently missed International selection in recent seasons despite performing on the park across both Super and Mitre 10 Cup rugby. In 2018, Weber was overlooked in favor of fellow Chiefs halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, and Weber himself, whilst happy for Tahuriorangi’s success, was left frustrated when he didn’t receive any communication from All Black coaches with guidance as to where he needed to improve his game.
Likewise with players like Shaun Stevenson, proven at Super Rugby level but seen to be “not quite ready” for the black jersey. 2019 presents players like Weber and Stevenson, amongst many others, with an unlikely yet still very achievable bolt into Steve Hansen’s All Blacks ahead of the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Super Rugby 2019: Chiefs Squad Analysis
So where to in terms of Super Rugby honors for this franchise?
In 2018, the Chiefs managed to make the playoffs but rued several basic mistakes on a terrible night in Wellington where they would lose to the Hurricanes by just a single point, but in a match where the scoreline really humbled the visitors.
Really, the performance that night was a fitting example of Chiefs season that was never able to maintain any real consistency, and one that also failed to secure results in the matches that really mattered.
The Chiefs have always had the ability to win the title since their back-to-back run in 2012/13, but a mixture of injuries and a lack of continuity of winning results have hampered those efforts significantly. At times, one could argue that there have also been some off-field dramas that haven’t helped the cause.
Furthermore, the Chiefs seem to be a side more prone to mass injuries if recent examples are anything to go by. Those injuries have left everyone involved with this franchise frustrated in recent seasons, so for Cooper and his fellow assistant coaches, the goal will just be to get through the November/December/January period with little concern in this area.
The 2019 version of this Chiefs squad doesn’t scream title-winning favorites by any stretch, but it certainly provides the depth, proven experience, and world-class talent to be a serious contender once again.
The Full Chiefs Squad For 2019:
Kane Hames (Tasman)
Aidan Ross (Bay of Plenty)
Reuben O’Neill (Taranaki)
Nepo Laulala (Counties Manukau)
Atu Moli (Waikato)
Sosefo Kautai (Waikato)
Angus Ta’avao (Taranaki)
Nathan Harris (Bay of Plenty)
Liam Polwart (Bay of Plenty)
Samisoni Taukei’aho (Waikato)
Brodie Retallick (Hawke’s Bay)
Tyler Ardron (Bay of Plenty)
Laghlan McWhannell (Waikato)
Michael Allardice (Hawke’s Bay)
Fin Hoeata (Taranaki)
Mitchell Brown (Taranaki)
Taleni Seu (Auckland)
Sam Cane (Bay of Plenty)
Mitchell Karpik (Bay of Plenty)
Lachlan Boshier (Taranaki)
Luke Jacobson (Waikato)
Pita Gus Sowakula (Taranaki)
Brad Weber (Hawke’s Bay)
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Taranaki)
Jonathan Taumateine (Counties Manukau)
Damian McKenzie (Waikato)
Tiaan Falcon (Hawke’s Bay)
Jack Debreczeni (Northland)
Alex Nankivell (Tasman)
Anton Lienert-Brown (Waikato)
Tumua Manu (Auckland)
Bailyn Sullivan (Waikato)
Solomon Alaimalo (Tasman)
Sean Wainui (Taranaki)
Ataata Moeakiola (Japan)
Etene Nanai-Seturo (Counties Manukau)
Shaun Stevenson (North Harbour)
Marty McKenzie (Taranaki)
Michael Pulman is a freelance journalist and content producer based in Hamilton, New Zealand. Since starting writing professionally in 2014, Michael has covered professional sports and has had articles on social issues published in mainstream media outlets in New Zealand and Internationally.