Sportal.co.nz 19.Jul.2012Getty Images
Twelve months ago the Hurricanes were battling to recruit players. Now the revitalised franchise already has 19 players signed up for the 2013 Investec Super Rugby campaign with more expected to join them in the coming weeks.
The re-signing of coach Mark Hammett and his assistant Alama Ieremia should also be a mere formality given the huge improvements that have been made on and off field this year.
"I'm currently negotiating a contract. I want to be here," said Hammett. "I feel like we've got something started and I want to make sure that we finish it out and continue to move forward."
That feeling is shared by Hurricanes chief executive James Te Puni, who backed Hammett and Ieremia to turn things around following the 2011 debacle.
"I'm really happy with the way the coaches have gone, both Mark and Alama and the rest of the support crew," said Te Puni.
"The step they have taken this year has been satisfying for them, the players and the fans.
"But we're already thinking about next year and frankly we are going to work even harder than we have this year."
The dramatic change in culture, the entertaining brand of rugby and the improved results on the pitch have all made the Hurricanes a far more enticing prospect for potential players.
"I've got no doubt about that," said Hammett. "I know we've got several young players, and older players for that matter, who are saying 'hey it's hard work but it's fun at the same time because everyone is committed and everyone is equal.'
"That's created a good environment. A good culture isn't an easy one but it has a great mixture between fun and hard work."
The 19 players already on board for next year include All Blacks Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Beauden Barrett and Julian Savea, plus veterans Tim Bateman and Ben May and rising stars Andre Taylor, Reggie Goodes, Jeff Toomaga-Allen and Brad Shields.
"That's a real positive sign of what's happened this year and there's an environment that people want to be involved in," added Hammett. "We're down the road quite a bit with several other players too."
They include TJ Perenara and Faifili Levave, while All Black loose forward Victor Vito is believed to be in negotiations with the New Zealand Rugby Union so won't begin his talks until that contract has been finalised.
The ITM Cup provided a springboard for the likes of Goodes, Toomaga-Allen, Shields, Savea, Barrett and Perenara last year and Hammett expects a similar scenario to unfold when this year's provincial competition gets underway next month.
"That's exciting because it will throw more players out there. I'm looking forward to seeing who that next group is and just continue to grow our environment here so that when they do move into here it's another step up and they can succeed."
Areas that will need strengthening include back-ups to Perenara, Barrett and May, who shouldered a huge workload this year as the only senior prop.
Halfbacks Chris Eaton and Chris Smylie are both off contract, while first-five Tusi Pisi still has two years to run on his deal in Japan and Daniel Kirkpatrick is off to France.