Drew Mitchell: It's time to get Super excited
THE 2018 Super Rugby season is almost upon us - and it's one to be pumped about.
Last year brought the unfortunate demise of one of my old clubs, the Western Force, with the competition streamlined from 18 teams to 15.
I prefer to leave that unfortunate saga in 2017. It took up too much of our energy and our interest. It took away from not only the fans' focus, but also that of the players.
There's no argument that the whole process was dealt with poorly, regardless of anyone's position on the decision - whether we should or shouldn't have cut a team.
But, it's done now and players have found a home - and hopefully those and their families who haven't come over east are set up in some capacity.
It's now all about quality in Australia over quantity.
The starting teams right across the board here are all a lot stronger with that talent spread across the four clubs.
Hopefully we will see that not only in the team lists but in some good performances and better results.
New Zealand has dominated for too long. Internationally and also domestically they have had the wood on us.
Losing is a habit. As an Australian conference, we need to do something to break that habit.
When the game is in the balance we get our leaders, we get our game-changers, to step up.
You see the likes of Beauden Barrett, of the Hurricanes, when the game is in the balance they are the guys who are making the crucial plays. But, it's a really exciting time for Australian rugby.
We've got a lot of experienced players who can be the change that we need in those games and sway it in our favour.
Melbourne benefited most from the decision to get rid of the Force.
They got their coach and quite a number of their big-name stars.
But, I think it presents some challenges for Dave Wessels, his coaching staff and the senior playing group.
They've got a great starting 15 and tremendous depth, but they need to become a cohesive unit out on the field.
A lot of that is done off it, getting everyone together so it's not too distinct groups - the Force boys and the Rebels boys.
If they don't there is the potential to be a bit of friction.
While not as dramatic, the Queensland Reds will have a new look in 2018.
They would be the first to admit they have not done as well as they would have liked since they last won the title in 2011, bottoming out in 2017 with four wins from 15 matches.
Brad Thorn has seen things he doesn't like and got them heading in a different direction, which is what you would expect from a new head coach.
He's come in and made some pretty bold decisions - cutting both Quade Cooper and Nick Frisby.
As he would know, coaches live and die by those types of decisions.
But, what's left is some great talent, including some really impressive younger players.
Having been in the inner sanctum of the NSW Waratahs during the Brisbane Tens, the last Australian team to win the championship (in 2014) look the most settled and are shaping up well.
I like their commitment, both at training and during games, willing one another on, making each other accountable.
Often when things get difficult and you're fatigued, the first thing that stops is your communication.
I found that with this group when someone needed to speak they didn't just fill the airwaves, they said the right things, they were concise.
What Daryl Gibson and his coaching staff have done has been really good.
Izzy Folau hasn't played for about four months, but he'll be fresh.
If they can keep the majority of their squad fit, they are looking good.
Win, lose or draw, the ACT Brumbies will provide one of the best stories of the year in the return of Christian Lealiifano after his cancer battle.
He's more impressive as a human being than as a footballer and that's not taking anything away from his football by any means.
I've really enjoyed following him from the first time we heard about his diagnosis and each of his stages throughout that journey.
I'm sure that journey is continuing but he's going from strength to strength.
Before his cancer battle he was most certainly entrenched in the Wallabies set-up.
I'm looking forward to seeing him get back to that form and hopefully seeing him in a gold jersey at some point.
It's a time to be positive about the competition.
Can't wait to see the Aussie boys give us something to be excited about on the field.