Sports correspondent & historian
While Sideline Sid, along with the rest of the country, has had little to smile about in the last three months, the arrival of Super Rugby Aotearoa on the small screen has uplifted the spirits of this long-time rugby fan.
The last two weekends of the New Zealand Super Rugby contests have been a revelation to this grey-haired sporting commentator.
It's many years since Sideline Sid has taken more than a passing interest in Super Rugby, believing it to be a manufactured competition with players paid wheelbarrows of money, in which many encounters were one-way traffic.
Super Rugby Aotearoa has gone back to the heart of New Zealand rugby, with five competitive sides that make the new competition look like the old NPC (National Provincial Championship) on steroids.
The 2020 New Zealand Super Rugby title race has received the tick of approval from the countries rugby fans, with crowds flocking to the stadiums in numbers not seen at Super Rugby for many seasons.
Plenty of current and past All Blacks are rubbing shoulders with the rising stars of the future in each of the five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises.
The Crusaders scorching touchdown in the opening minute of their Sunday afternoon clash with the Canes highlighted the intensity of the new competition.
While the Crusaders are the favourites to take out the first Super Rugby Aotearoa title, the first two rounds suggest that they will have plenty of battles to fight and win, before they can lift aloft the championship trophy aloft in victory.
One of the pleasing aspects of the current season for this writer is the renaissance of the Blues.
It would have been inconceivable to image the extreme decline of the team from the City of Sails, after they claimed the first two Super 12 crowns in 1996 and 1997.
Super Rugby was driven by the start of the professional rugby in the Southern Hemisphere, kicking-off in the first season with five New Zealand franchises, four South African provinces and three Australian state teams.
Sideline Sid believes that the decline of Super Rugby was driven by the pursuit of money, which brought about the competition expansion to 18 teams before paring it back to 15 sides.
The introduction of the Argentinean Jaguares and the Sunwolves from Japan was a bridge to far and saw Super Rugby become a lot less appealing to rugby fans, in Sideline Sid's opinion.
It's interesting to go back in time and look at the line-up of the Auckland Blues, who lifted the first Super Rugby trophy aloft in victory after dispatching Natal 45-21, in front of forty-six thousand people at Eden Park in 1996.
In a side littered with All Blacks - Zinzan Brooke led Adrian Cashmore, Joeli Vidiri, Eroni Clarke, John Ngauamo, Jonah Lomu, Carlos Spencer, Junior Tonu'u, Andrew Blowers, Michael Jones, Charles Reichelmann, Robin Brooke, Olo Brown, Sean Fitzpatrick and Craig Dowd on to Eden Park - the Blues tries were dotted down by Andrew Blowers (2) Jonah Lomu, Eroni Clarke, Carlos Spencer and Charles Reichlmann with former Bay of Plenty player Adrian Cashmore slotting three conversions and three penalty goals.
The man of the match was (Sir) Michael Jones.
It was interesting to note that the game was played in the era before player substitutions, with Charles Reichelmann going off injured to be replaced by Jason Chandler.
Sideline Sid’s picks for the inaugural Aotearoa Super Rugby crown are the Crusaders to beat the Blues in an epic final.