Predictions: Super Rugby
Super Rugby returns to our screens this week and it's two South African derbies to start as the remaining 11 teams continue their preparations.
2014 promises so much and we're sure, like us, you can't wait for the action to kick-off, with the Chiefs gunning for three successive titles.
Many franchises have recruited well while some were happy to stick with what they had or even look to the future and let their older heads go.
In this preview, we look over the overall winner, conference betting, top try scorer and a few other markets that had us eager to make a punt.
We'll also look at the games taking place in Bloemfontein and Durban so if you're looking to make some money, Paddy Power is the place to go.
Champions: Three in row. It may seem boring but we don't feel title rivals possess the quality at Dave Rennie's disposal as the Chiefs should prevail once again. Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Aaron Cruden, Tom Marshall, Mils Muliaina; the list goes on in terms of a group that many head coaches would walk on hot coals for, and in a long season such as this such depth is imperative. Chiefs to win it at 4/1.
Australian conference: Possibly the most open we've seen things in Australia for a good few years, the Brumbies, Reds and Waratahs are set to battle it out to finish top of their conference. The Brumbies are arguably stronger than last year in terms of playing personnel with David Pocock back from injury, but they lose head coach Jake White, who walked out on his adopted country and eventually signed at the Sharks.
The Reds look very slick in pre-season and have a man in real form directing matters from fly-half in Quade Cooper. The question mark about Richard Graham's side though is if they have the players outside Will Genia and Cooper who will step up for the former Super Rugby champions.
Finally the Waratahs, who have running threats in Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale, Alofa Alofa and also Michael Hooper. However, after being built up year after year, one wonders if they will be consistent enough to claim this conference. Our prediction is: 1 Brumbies, 2 Waratahs, 3 Reds.
New Zealand conference: We've already mentioned the Chiefs' playing depth and they will be eager to do what no other franchise has done in Super Rugby history and win three on the bounce. Of the players not discussed earlier, Tim Nanai-Williams and Ben Tameifuna will be threats.
Todd Blackadder has to manage his All Blacks and won't have a vital one for the season as fly-half Dan Carter takes his time off ahead of next year's World Cup. Losing Tom Marshall is a blow to their cause but Israel Dagg, Nemani Nadolo and their rugged pack will put them in the mix.
Meanwhile, the Blues and Hurricanes are the dark horses, with Benji Marshall, Jerome Kaino and Charlie Piutau in Auckland, and Beauden Barrett, Ardie and Julian Savea and also Cory Jane in Wellington, set to thrill us in 2014. Surprise prediction here: 1 Chiefs, 2 Blues, 3 Crusaders.
South Africa conference: It's a similar situation to New Zealand in the South African conference as two favourites with the bookies are followed up by the rest. The Sharks, rightly or wrongly, seem to have a fan fair of build-up and expectation surrounding them because of a nice draw and impressive pack. Let us remember though this same squad finished eighth last season. Week One against the Bulls will show their hand.
The Stormers also possess a strong forward unit that is boosted by Schalk Burger's return which means Rynhardt Elstadt shifts to lock to cover for the injured Eben Etzebeth. Their defence is one of the best in world rugby but the problem in Cape Town is their attack, which needs work.
Elsewhere, the Cheetahs have Johan Goosen back but lose Robert Ebersohn which is a big blow. Adriaan Strauss will as ever be key to their pack while the back-row is also underrated. The Bulls aren't in as bad shape as many believe as while they've lost Morne Steyn and others, there is decent quality coming through their ranks from South Africa's U20 side and also former Kings stars. Prediction: 1 Sharks, 2 Stormers, 3 Bulls.
Top try-scorer: Last year it was Blues finisher Frank Halai who topped the chart with ten tries and he'll be there or thereabouts again this time around with team-mate George Moala a decent outside bet. Israel Folau is the bookies favourite at 8/1 with Paddy Power while there's Nemani Nadolo from the Crusaders at 16/1, Asaeli Tikoirotuma at 33s and a decent each-way punt on Lions flanker Derick Minnie (80/1) is tasty.
This week's games: Cheetahs and Sharks to win against the Lions and Bulls respectively pays 1.68 with Paddy Power.