So how will the mighty Crusaders fare this season now that the Toddfather has gone?
First of all, here is the Crusader squad for the 2002 S12 season with their birth-places.
Ben Blair (Westport, West Coast)
Leon MacDonald (Blenheim, Marlborough)
Joe Maddock (Christchurch, Canterbury)
Caleb Ralph (Rotorua, Bay of Plenty)
Marika Vunibaka (Levuka, Fiji)
Nathan Mauger (Christchurch, Canterbury)
Mark Robinson (Stratford, Taranaki)
Daryl Gibson (Lumsden, Southland)
Aaron Mauger (Christchurch, Canterbury)
Andrew Mehrtens (Durban, Natal)
Orene Ai'i (Apia, Samoa)
Justin Marshall (Mataura, Southland)
Ben Hurst (Oamaru, North Otago)
Sam Broomhall (Christchurch, Canterbury)
Scott Robertson (Tauranga, Bay of Plenty)
Matt Mustchin (Christchurch, Canterbury)
Richard McCaw (Oamaru, North Otago)
Johnny Leo'o (Auckland, Auckland)
Reuben Thorne (Christchurch, Canterbury)
Chris Jack (Christchurch, Canterbury)
Norm Maxwell (Rawene, Northland)
Bradley Mika (Auckland, Auckland)
Greg Feek (New Plymouth, Taranaki)
David Hewett (Christchurch, Canterbury)
Greg Somerville (Wairoa, Hawkes Bay)
Nick White (Whangarei, Northland)
Mark Hammett (Christchurch, Canterbury)
Corey Flynn (Invercargill, Southland)
Born in Canterbury : 9/28 (32.14%)
Born in Crusader catchment area : 11/28 (39.28%)
Born in South Island : 16/28 (57.14%)
Born in North Island : 8/28 (28.57%)
Born Overseas : 3/28 (10.71%)
Number of All Blacks : 18/28 (64.28%)
Number of Internationals : 20/28 (71.42%)
Captain : Reuben Thorne
So how do I think the Crusaders will go this season? I think they must rate their chances! At the moment they are joint favourites with the boring Brumbies.
Instead of dwelling on the squads strengths (which are many with 18 All Blacks), I will look at the obvious weaknesses. I think there are 3 "unknowns" with this squad.
1. Captaincy of Reuben Thorne
How will Reuben fill the great mans shoes? The answer is he won't. He's gotta be his own man. Outside of Toddy, Reuben Thorne has always had the respect & support of his teammates. This is illustrated by the "Reuben Thorne" song that the team sings after winning yet another rugby trophy.
Toddy himself mentioned in his book that he had an enormous repect for Thorne and his abilities. What more of an endorsement can the Crusaders fans ask for in their new captain?
Personally I can't think of a better choice as captain. Lets hope he does a good job.
2. Lack of class at reserve lock
With Toddy gone, Brad Thorn running back to Queensland and Steve Lancaster long gone, all of a sudden the locking situation in Canterbury doesn't look so bright. If Maxwell or Jack get injured, Bradley Mika the unknown Auckland lock is the only specialist locking reserve. Outside of Mika, Thorne will be cover.
We had better hope Maxwell & Jack stay fit!
Having so many AB's brings up the fatigue issue. How tired will the players be after a relatively short break after the end-of-season tour? Its a big issue in modern football, and it'll be upto Deans and Colin Cooper to ensure players are kept fresh and motivated.
All and all I think the Crusaders will be competitive this season, especially if the Canterbury NPC form flows through to the Crusaders. If that happens look out! It will be 4 S12 titles in 5 years!!!