A shock contender has entered the race to join the expanded event.
Hawke's Bay have lodged an ambitious application to severe ties with the Hurricanes and join the expanded Super 15 as New Zealand's sixth franchise.
The dramatic development will be confirmed today when Sanzar announces the full list of expressions of interests put forth in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia for the 2011 season.
The New Zealand bid is a bombshell considering the country already boasts five sides, but Hawke's Bay are adamant they have the players, cash, coaches and support to field a viable and competitive side in the Australian conference.
The Hawke's Bay Rugby Union's board ticked off and delivered its bid to the New Zealand Rugby Union yesterday, beating a Sanzar deadline by hours.
"We are going to have a go," Hawke's Bay Rugby Union chief executive Mike Bishop confirmed to The Dominion Post. "Whether we will be successful we don't know, but we think we have the wherewithal to meet the criteria and think it would be enormous for rugby in our region."
The NZRU would not say whether it had received any expressions of interest.
Bishop said the bid was not a stunt and he believed it would stack up against the inevitable interest from Australia and South Africa.
"We obviously believe there is room [for a sixth New Zealand franchise]. Rugby is thriving in our region and we want to give [our fans] the opportunity to see Super rugby locally.
"Sanzar has indicated it is looking at a proposal to go to 18 teams within two to three years anyway, so clearly it's on the radar. Why not now in the case of our bid?"
Although he was unsure exactly how much money would be needed, Bishop said the board did not see it as a major stumbling block after canvassing the union's sponsors.
The bid must be endorsed by the NZRU in order to progress to the next stage of the process.
National unions have until August 7 to consider bids, with final presentations to Sanzar scheduled for late September.
It is proposed that the side be coached by Hawke's Bay coach and Highlanders assistant Peter Russell and his provincial forwards coach, Tom Coventry.
The union strongly believed it had the players to compete immediately and would try to recover those sucked up by other franchises, Bishop said.
The 2008 Hawke's Bay squad provided 11 players to this season's Super 14: Bryn Evans, Zac Guildford, Karl Lowe, Hika Elliot, Arizona Taumalolo, Thomas Waldrom, Matt Berquist, Jason Shoemark, Israel Dagg, George Naoupu and Clint Newland.
Although Hawke's Bay had acted alone, Bishop said they would work with other unions within the Hurricanes franchise if required.
"The obvious ones are Taranaki, Manawatu, Wanganui, Poverty Bay. If you line them up it equates to in excess of 400,000 [people] and I think the Highlanders' catchment area is about 286,000."
The side would play at McLean Park, which has a capacity of about 24,000 and could "comfortably cope" with Super rugby.
A grandstand featuring 26 corporate lounges would open for this year's Air New Zealand Cup, and six new lighting towers were among the best in the country.
"If we look at average crowds attending Super rugby in 2009, it would suggest you don't need a 35,000-seat stadium," Bishop said.
The board had considered the travel requirements of playing in the Australian conference and did not believe they were restrictive.
"We'd still have the same number of home games as the current five franchises we'd just have them against different teams. We think our fans would jump at the chance to see the Bulls or Waratahs in town.
"There will be people who say, `who the hell do they think they are', but from our perspective if you don't try and go ahead you stagnate and go backwards."
August 7: Deadline for national unions to consider bids to join the expanded Super 15
Late September: Final presentations to Sanzar
November: Decision expected
2011: Start date for the Super 15
The Mighty Hawkes Bay. Interesting idea, I don't know how well it would go.