Last season: First in Super Rugby Aotearoa, equal second in Super Rugby trans-Tasman
Home ground: Orangetheory Stadium
Coach: Scott Robertson
Captain: Scott Barrett
Gains: Pablo Matera, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Kini Naholo, Simon Hickey, Dominic Gardiner, Finlay Brewis, Zach Gallagher, Shilo Klein, Corey Kellow
Losses: Isileli Tuungafasi, Andrew Makalio, Michael Alaalatoa, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Tom Sanders, Ereatara Enari, Brett Cameron, Manasa Mataele, Luke Romano, Josh McKay
Midfield international Jack Goodhue was out for most of last season with repercussions not only for the Crusaders but also the All Blacks. His defensive strength and organisational skills will be welcomed upon his return. But what may also be more important is the way he renews his relationship with centre Braydon Ennor. Together the pair represent a significant strength for the Crusaders and, after his own injury frustrations, Ennor stands to gain much from a useful liaison with Goodhue.
ROOKIE TO WATCH
It's unfair to call loose forward Pablo Matera a rookie given his Super Rugby and international experience. But the way he fits into the Crusaders' environment could play a big part in their championship aspirations. He shapes as a powerful member of an already strong loose forward group in all areas of the game.
Local rivalry, and the emerging confidence of the Highlanders in games with the Crusaders, should make their February 26 game, a classic of its kind, especially being played at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Subduing the home team could be an important step for Crusaders' hopes in the competition.
Personnel, performance and persistence have combined to make the Crusaders the most formidable unit in Australasian competition and little looks like changing this year. They remain the team to beat. So much potential is unleashed by the side each year, no matter they players lost from the end of the last campaign. The Crusaders start the season as the favourites for championship honours again.
Hookers: Codie Taylor, Brodie McAlister, Shilo Klein
Props: Joe Moody, Oli Jager, Fletcher Newell, George Bower, Tamaiti Williams, Finlay Brewis
Locks: Scott Barrett, Quentin Strange, Mitchell Dunshea, Sam Whitelock, Zach Gallagher
Loose forwards: Tom Christie, Ethan Blackadder, Sione Havili Talitui, Cullen Grace, Pablo Matera, Dominic Gardiner, Corey Kellow
Halfbacks: Mitch Drummond, Bryn Hall, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi
First fives: Richie Mo’unga, Simon Hickey, Fergus Burke
Midfield: Jack Goodhue, David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Isaiah Punivai, Dallas McLeod
Outside backs: Chay Fihaki, George Bridge, Sevu Reece, Will Jordan, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Kini Naholo