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2023 Super Rugby Preview - Chiefs

While their 2022 season didn't end the way it was initially on course for, the Chiefs certainly remain a team with upwards trajectory, especially considering their rock bottom of 2020. They finished as semi-finalists, so will be wishing for a finals appearance in 2023, the 10th anniversary of their previous Super Rugby title, under Dave Rennie.

The 2022 Chiefs team huddle during a water break. Photo: Max Sharp.

Clayton McMillan has retained Sam Cane and Brad Weber as co-captains for his third season as Head Coach, while the return of Damian McKenzie and new additions to the pack, are certain to bring fans to the stadium. Let's have a deep dive on all you need to know about the Chiefs' class of 2023.

New Signings for the Chiefs in 2023:

George Dyer

Age: 23 years old

Position: Prop

Test Caps: uncapped

Previous Club: Waikato

After strong performances in a short-term deal with the Chiefs in 2022, Dyer has been promoted from the wider training squad and into a full contract. With a low centre of gravity and quick ruck speed, Dyer is certainly a promising player. With Atu Moli's share of injuries hampering his form, Dyer will deservingly be expecting a decent amount of game time.

Jared Proffit

Age: 29 years old

Position: Prop

Test Caps: uncapped

Previous Club: Hurricanes

If there's anybody who can prove determination pays dividends, out of the new signings, it's Gisborne-born Jared Proffit. After a sole appearance for Poverty Bay, aged 18, in 2012, Proffit has racked up over 50 caps for Taranaki since 2015. Having done well as short-term cover for the Hurricanes in 2022, he now has a full contract with the Chiefs. Great work big fella.

John Ryan

Age: 34 years old

Position: Prop

Test Caps: 24 tests

Previous Club: Wasps (England)

With Angus Ta'avao ruled out for the season with a spinal injury, McMillan needed an experienced tighthead prop. Ryan has been-there-done-that for sure. His 24-cap career with Ireland included the 2019 Rugby World Cup and after the collapse of Wasps, his previous club, Ryan needed a new home; though 6 appearances for his old club Munster, have come between his move from the Wasps to the Chiefs. Expect plenty of power from him.

Manaaki Selby-Rickit

Age: 26 years old

Position: Lock

Test Caps: uncapped

Previous Club: Highlanders

After a poor season for the Highlanders in 2022, Selby-Rickit looks to reignite his career. As the son of former All Black, Hud Rickit, he has pedigree and was also a member of the 2020 South Island team. A move up north was logical, given his NPC team is Bay of Plenty. At 200cm tall, look for Selby-Rickit to add some firepower in the lineout.

Damian McKenzie

Age: 27 years old

Position: First-Five

Test Caps: 40 tests

Previous Club: Tokyo Sungoliath (Japan)

Damian McKenzie is both the third-choice 10, and the third-choice 15, based on the Foster-era All Blacks Depth Charts.

In 2017, a then-22-year-old McKenzie signed through to 2021. Though he lost his eligibility for the All Blacks through a one-year deal in Tokyo, he is now back to earn his 100th Chiefs cap, after missing the 2022 season. Having used his time away from test rugby, to convert into 10, under-the-radar of the international analysts, strong Super Rugby form will mean imminent test-level action.

Peniasi Malimali

Age: 26 years old

Position: Winger

Test Caps: uncapped

Previous Club: Counties Manukau

The Nadi-born flyer averaged 99 metres per match in the 2022 NPC, finally getting decent game time after Counties' withdrawal in 2021. With 5 tries, 797 metres, 29 defenders beaten, 9 clean breaks and 10 offloads off 84 carries in the competition, is Peniasi Malimali perhaps the long-awaited answer to the Chiefs' need for class wingers?

Ngane Punivai

Age: 24 years old

Position: Utility Back

Test Caps: uncapped

Previous Club: Highlanders

At just 24, Punivai has already signed to play with his third Super Rugby club; having began his career with the Crusaders. With Quinn Tupaea ruled out for the season due to injury, Punivai has likely come in to be the extra back for the team. Punivai can cover wing and centre, so will likely mould himself into a lethal impact player with ball-in-hand.

Three Key Losses for the Chiefs:

Angus Ta'avao

Age: 32 years old

Position: Prop

Test Caps: 23 tests

Destination: ruled out for the season due to injury

Former Auckland captain, Angus Ta'avao, will be unable to represent the Chiefs in 2023 due to a spinal injury suffered in the NPC quarter-finals. Photo: Max Sharp.

Ta'avao began his fourth year as an All Black with 25 minutes off the bench against Eden Park, before a red card in Dunedin against Ireland. Having a shocking performance against South Africa on return from suspension, Ta'avao may now not get a chance at a re-call for the All Blacks, having withdrawn from the 2022 All Blacks XV and 2023 Chiefs squad, with a spinal injury. His experience will be severely missed by the Chiefs.

Kaleb Trask

Age: 23 years old

Position: First-Five

Test Caps: uncapped

Destination: Mie Honda Heat (Japan)

The development of Rivez Reihana, the form of Josh Ioane and Bryn Gatland, then the return of Damian McKenzie, would have meant they had five 10's. Trask has been sent off for a one-year deal in Japan on loan, he will return in 2024. Considering that Ioane, Gatland and McKenzie could all join the exodus though, hopefully this transfer won't harm Trask's development.

Quinn Tupaea

Age: 23 years old

Position: Centre

Test Caps: 14 tests

Destination: ruled out for the season due to injury

Quinn Tupaea's kicking game underwent working-on before his World Cup hopes were dashed by Australia's Darcy Swain. Photo: Max Sharp.

While Ta'avao's return date has not been published by officials, Tupaea is now able to run again after an ACL injury sustained against Australia. He is scheduled to return for Waikato in September; though this will see him miss the Chiefs' season and the Rugby World Cup. With rapid improvement into a well-rounded centre before the injury, hopefully Tupaea's momentum hasn't been stalled.

A Possible First-Choice XV for the Chiefs:

  1. Aidan Ross

  2. Samisoni Taukei'aho

  3. John Ryan

  4. Brodie Retallick

  5. Tupou Vaa'i

  6. Luke Jacobson

  7. Sam Cane

  8. Pita Gus Sowakula

  9. Brad Weber

  10. Damian McKenzie

  11. Etene Nanai-Seturo

  12. Alex Nankivell

  13. Anton Lienert-Brown

  14. Emoni Narawa

  15. Josh Ioane

Full Chiefs Squad for 2023:

*denotes newly-signed player.

Italics denote a test-capped player.

+ denotes a player ruled out for the season due to injury.

Hookers: Bradley Slater, Samisoni Taukei'aho, Tyrone Thompson

Props: George Dyer*, Atu Moli, Ollie Norris, Jared Proffit*, Aidan Ross, John Ryan*, Angus Ta'avao+

Locks: Josh Lord, Laghlan McWhannell, Brodie Retallick, Manaaki Selby-Rickit*, Tupou Vaa'i

Loose Forwards: Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Kaylum Boshier, Sam Cane, Samipeni Finau, Luke Jacobson, Simon Parker, Pita Gus Sowakula

Halfbacks: Cortez Ratima, Xavier Roe, Brad Weber

First-Fives: Bryn Gatland, Damian McKenzie*, Rivez Reihana

Midfielders: Anton Lienert-Brown, Alex Nankivell, Rameka Poihipi, Quinn Tupaea+, Gideon Wrampling

Outside Backs: Josh Ioane, Peniasi Malimali*, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Emoni Narawa, Ngane Punivai*, Shaun Stevenson

Chiefs centre, Alex Nankivell, is set for lots of game time and may debut for the All Blacks in 2023, after Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Braydon Ennor were dropped based on poor showings against Japan.

Potential MVP: Samisoni Taukei'aho

Potential Top Points Scorer: Damian McKenzie

Potential Top Try-Scorer: Alex Nankivell

Likely Finishing Place in 2022:

2nd Place. While the Chiefs have had 7 transfers, the same as the Crusaders, their changes have not affected the pecking order, of the key decision-makers for the side, with the exception of Damian McKenzie coming in for the departed Chase Tiatia. As mentioned earlier, the Chiefs have certainly continued on an upwards trajectory in recent seasons, while it's very clear to some, that Clayton McMillan certainly has the prowess to go on and coach internationally.

Pita Gus Sowakula will play his final season for the Chiefs in 2023, he and his former Black Ferns partner, Toka Natua, have both signed for Clermont in France for 2024. Photo: Max Sharp.

While they've got a team who could theoretically destroy the competition, on paper, the Blues have more of a settled squad compared to the Chiefs. The Chiefs will however, have a great go at winning the competition, having beaten the Crusaders once in 2022; cracks are showing in the Robertson-era Crusaders now. Look for a Chiefs vs Blues final in 2023, before the Chiefs go one up for 2024 and get their third Super Rugby title that year.

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