Some big guns return for the Crusaders, while the Chiefs should make the trans-Tasman hoodoo 35 straight games in Brisbane. The Highlanders will be very warm favourites for tonight's Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy clash in Auckland.
Blues v Highlanders - Highlanders by 6
If you believed one media outlet, then the Blues – minus 18 (!) of their roster – enter this with a starting XV equipped to defeat the Highlanders. They might push them close, but only if the forwards mark up. Stephen Perofeta will be comfortable at fullback, despite the inevitable high ball barrage, but the Blues pack must make some kind of a strong statement after too much passivity this season. Aaron Smith takes a seat on the bench, but Elliot Dixon will be beside him. He should be in the No. 6 jersey.
Crusaders v Sunwolves - Crusaders by 34
The Sunwolves defended with more vigor against the Blues, but that will not save them in Christchurch. The home side have rotated many key men, including Sam Whitelock, Mitch Hunt and Luke Romano, but it should not matter. Israel Dagg is back, though on the wing and not at the back, while prop Owen Franks too makes a long-awaited comeback. Five points. Bank them.
Reds v Chiefs - Chiefs by 13
The Chiefs have come a cropper across the Tasman over the years. But not this time, even in Queensland's 1000th match. George Smith returns to the Reds bench, but the great No. 7 will have his hands full with the June All Blacks captain Sam Cane. Reds coach Brad Thorn is coming under heat for not looking at Brisbane club rugby's most expensive player Quade Cooper, but that ship has sailed. The match will be won in the pack, where the Reds will try, but fail, to dominate the Chiefs' eight.