Settled: Kurtley Beale has thrived at the Waratahs. Photo: Getty Images
History tell us that the New South Wales Waratahs are now the favourites to win this year's Super Rugby championship.
More often than not, the home-ground advantage ensures the team that occupies the top rung in the competition ladder heading into the play-offs tends to be the one hoisting the trophy three weeks later.
But history doesn't decide football games. And they're not played on paper either.
Nemani Nadolo is the only Crusaders player who is not an All Black. Photo: Getty Images
The Waratahs may be the bookmakers' and logical man's favourite but they're not mine.
I believe the Crusaders will win this competition - even if they have to travel to Sydney and beat the Tahs on their home turf to achieve it.
And in saying that, I mean no disrespect to the Waratahs at all.
Michael Hooper has played every minute of every game for the Waratahs. Photo: Getty Images
Quite the opposite, in fact.
In previous years, Kiwi fans have tended to deride the Waratahs as "March premiers". They always start a season well and threaten but invariably seem to fall over at the business end when the most is on the line.
I sense a tougher beast this time around.
Colin Slade has stepped up to fill-in for Dan Carter at No.10. Photo: Getty Images
There are less weaknesses than the past. They can still have the odd hiccup at lineout time but the key reason they have improved this season is they finally have the right people in the right places.
Kurtley Beale is a good example. At other Super Rugby franchises, he has been tended to be used as a stop-gap. Don't have a fullback? Put Beale there. Instead, NSW have placed him permanently in the No 12 position and the result has been a more than useful combination with Adam Ashley-Cooper.
There have been other individual player successes that have further contributed to the threat NSW now poses.
Super Rugby team of the week
15. Ben Smith (Highlanders) Photo: AFP
They have managed to keep Wycliff Palau fit and healthy and that has made a big difference. And who can argue with the form of Israel Folau?
So too has the presence of Michael Hooper. This guy in particular blows me away. He has played every minute of every game for the Tahs this season. Talk about Mr Action and Endurance Man mixed into one.
And he's only 22. No wonder Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie likes what he sees. Hooper could be wearing the Wallaby No. 7 jersey for the next decade.
Dangerous: Israel Folau. Photo: Getty Images
Mentioning McKenzie reminds me that if there is one Australian franchise that embodies the new swagger and self-confidence the Wallabies seem to be gaining, it's the Tahs.
But on the presumption they were to meet the Crusaders in the final - and that's not a presumption any sane man should be making this far out - they would run into the same psychological challenge many of those players face when they don a green and gold jersey and take on the All Blacks. That is knowing you are facing a remorseless and tight bunch of players who believe in each other, their jersey and their ability to prevail no matter what.
NSW know this Crusaders side is full of All Blacks. In fact, only about one of them isn't. And he's a winger, who plays for Fiji and isn't a half bad player in his own right!
I look at the Crusaders and see an All Blacks mentality, which is why they are my favourites.
After what I saw them do to the Highlanders, I'm even more convinced of their ability to win this from here.
This is the part of the season they love. They have managed their All Blacks superbly and they know how to win big games.
Their performances this year, in what all fans would agree has been the toughest and most competitive Super Rugby season on record, continue to impress.
No Dan Carter? That's OK, we'll just bring in Colin Slade. Richie McCaw's injured? Don't worry, we'll play Matt Todd there. George Whitelock has moved on, it's cool we have this kid named Jordan Taufua.
They are the masters of introducing players into their system who immediately pick up the mantle.
You can see it in the franchise's expectations annually. Anything other than a play-offs position is deemed an abject failure. The bar is set so high.
This is new territory for the Tahs and they are simply not as experienced as the likes of Todd Blackadder's troops.
Finally, this has been the best and most even Super Rugby season we've had. Now we're going to tinker with it in two years time and that's a shame.
I really don't get why we're doing this.
I don't really care whether Japan or Singapore gets the nod for the 18th side. I just want to know where the players are to come from and nobody seems able to answer that.
Are we looking at a foundation team driven by players from that country? Or are we looking at an Asian Barbarians side?
Either way, I'm unconvinced we need it.
What we have now is working perfectly fine.
Sunday Star Times