NEW Zealand has earned a reputation as the world's richest talent factory. Each year, players of rare ability burst on to the Super 15 landscape, marking themselves out as FABs (future All Blacks). The Herald's Dylan Cleaver looks at five rookies who could make a difference
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Wouldn't even be a rookie were it not for some horrendous luck in the weeks before the start of the 2011 Super 15.
A serious shoulder injury suffered at the conclusion of the 2010 ITM Cup degenerated and with the 2011 Super rugby season imminent, the painful decision was made to send the age-group player of the year to the surgeon's table, rather than rely on the healing power of time.
The Manukau product's aggression, allied to some imposing physical statistics, have earned him the nickname "Monster".
He missed the squad for tonight's opener and has two All Blacks - Anthony Boric and Ali Williams - standing in the way of regular game time for the Blues, but as you'll hear ad nauseam between now and August, this is a very long season and the competition will be won by the strongest squad, not starting 15.
Granted, he has five Super caps under his belt, but this is the Reporoan's first full season with the Chiefs. It could be a breakthrough one.
You cannot play in the No 7 jersey in New Zealand without the spectre of Richie McCaw over your shoulder.
Last year Matt Todd and Luke Braid became the latest to be saddled with the hope they might be suitable replacements for the All Black skipper when he hangs up his boots. Good judges think Cane is even better suited to carry that burden.
He made his starting debut for the Chiefs against McCaw's Crusaders last year and one of his biggest fans, Ian Foster, has gone from his mentoring role at the franchise to a spot on the All Black selection panel.
With the accomplished Tanerau Latimer primed for a big year, Cane will not have it all his own way at the Chiefs, but he will get plenty of chances.
Loose forward, Hurricanes
The Hurricanes cleared the decks last year in an attempt to build for the future. Shields is expected to be one of the foundation stones as they try to lose the tag of underachievers.
Shields was blindside flanker for the NZ under-20 side that won the world championship in Italy last year, but played mostly at No 8 for Wellington in the ITM Cup.
It was at the back of the scrum for the disappointing Lions where he impressed, most notably with a two-try effort against Southland that effectively saved the team from the capital the embarrassment of being relegated.
Tough times are predicted in the capital this Super 15 season, but if the 20-year-old can look good in adversity, his stocks will continue their rapid rise.
Being the "son of" has its privileges as well as its own pressures. Warwick Taylor was an ultra-consistent, heady second five-eighths for the All Blacks during the 1980s.
Second five-eighths have come a long way since those days, and first five might end up being Tom Taylor's best position anyway. But in many respects Taylor, who misses tonight's Blues match with injury, looks primed to be a chip off the old block. The Burnside 22-year-old is consistent, has impeccable fitness (he's always at the front or near during pre-season 3km team runs) and is renowned for his unflappable temperament.
About the only thing that has ruffled him in his short career is bus trips over windy roads ... so we're told.
Loose forward, Highlanders
He is the one rookie who will never fit into the FAB category, but there's still much expectation over Haskell's appearance for the southerners.
The England international did not cover himself in glory on his last visit here, but he had 29 compatriots in a similar boat.
This would be the perfect place to mention Queenstown (it's in the Highlanders' catchment), dwarf-throwing, unhinged bouncers and all that, but we're bigger than that.
Instead we'll focus on the fact Haskell is the Highlanders' first international import. He's an aggressive ball runner and hard-tackling loosie. He's abrasive - and they like abrasive down there.