In our second installment of this eight-part series, we will look at five hookers who could make Steve Hansen's 30-man New Zealand World Cup squad that will be named in one year's time.
- Dane Coles: Has overtaken Keven Mealamu as the starting hooker for the All Blacks and that doesn't look set to change. Has vastly matured since making his debut back in 2012 and is the outright number one player in a position where depth is a weak point. Verdict: Spot secured
- Liam Coltman: Looked to be the winner of the race to replace Andrew Hore as the third-choice hooker in 2013 following the announcement of the latter's retirement, especially when he undertook an All Black 'apprenticeship' during both the 2013 Rugby Championship and the 2014 Steinlager Series.
However, poor performances in the 2014 Super Rugby campaign with the Highlanders meant Coltman has slipped in the pecking order and has been leapfrogged by Nathan Harris. Needs to improve quickly or he may need to wait until 2019 rolls around. Verdict: Off the pace
- Nathan Harris: Even the most avid rugby follower in New Zealand would have struggled to recognize Harris when his name was called out for the 2014 Chiefs Super Rugby squad. So it is with some surprise that Harris is now considered the third-choice hooker in the country, overtaking both Rhys Marshall and Liam Coltman in the pecking order, something that he can thank an All Black 'apprenticeship' for.
Earned his first Test cap against Argentina two weeks ago, and, along with Coles and Mealamu, is one of the only Test-capped hookers left in the country, something that will be at his advantage going into 2015. Verdict: On track
- Rhys Marshall: Was considered to be the only challenger to Coltman as the third-choice hooker in the country following Hore's retirement last year, a statement that can be backed up by the fact that he, along with Coltman, undertook an All Blacks 'apprenticeship' earlier this year.
However, his emergence last year has been countered by both a hit of second-season blues and the emergence of Chiefs teammate Nathan Harris, resulting in Marshall slipping to fifth in the national hooking stocks, something that needs to be fixed sooner rather than later. Verdict: Off the pace
- Keven Mealamu: The elder statesman of the five hopefuls is sitting comfortably in second place in the pecking order for hooker, a position that is unlikely to be taken away from him. With an impressive 119 Test caps and three World Cups under his belt, the selectors will look to use Mealamu's experience to help Coles and the third hooker next year when they need it most.
Will almost certainly make the cut, and only his troublesome calves will prevent him from appearing in his final few appearances in the black jersey. Verdict: Spot secured
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