The passion for both sides ahead of their games was equal, and he still always looked for when they would play the Crusaders when the draw was announced.
MacDonald has gone with Adrian Choat and captain Dalton Papali'i off the sides of the scrum. He said Choat had impressed in his appearances off the bench, especially at the tackle and breakdown areas.
"Given what we know about the Crusaders and their strengths, and one of the areas they like to target is the breakdown so Adrian is going to add some good steel in there and has earnt the right from some good performances."
James Tucker and Cameron Suafoa will play locks while Tom Robinson will provide cover from the bench for the injured Patrick Tuipulotu, and in the backline, Mark Telea returns on the wing.
While it has been targeted as a repeat of last year's final, the Blues prefer to look for a good performance in their first home game of the year after a tricky start and a lot of travel involved.
"We're excited about it. It's two different teams in quite different situations. They're pretty hungry and desperate, and we are as well. We haven't hit our full stride yet, either.
"We've shown some good glimpses and it would be nice to put in a performance we are proud of."
The game was an important one for the Blues, he said. It was a chance to launch their season, and while there had been smatterings of their best play, they had yet to be consistent for 80 minutes.
The Crusaders were always dangerous. They had experience in big games and knew how to turn it on at the correct times.
"I think [after] the loss last week, they'll be demanding a response. We're aware they will be bringing their A-game, and we need to make sure we're ready to go and match them.
"We've prepared well and there's a hunger in this group to play well."
Papali'i said the players had seen the media hype about the game, but the players were viewing it as a new season and a new game.
"You have to put that to one side and not let the emotion take over. You have to start thinking this is the job at hand and what needs to be done. We've prepared well this week and we're looking forward to it."
He said the Crusaders might be on unfamiliar ground with two losses in their first three games, but every time against them, you had to play your best rugby.
"The game now is so fast and so physical, that's their base."
They were also wary of the Crusaders' lineout prowess which proved devastating in last year's final.
He is looking forward to playing in liaison with Choat in the loose.
"He can get over the ball well, in the contact area he's physical and he's a fit player as well. It's awesome to have him out there."