Auckland have experienced core

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Lynn McConnell     09 Aug 2017     Getty Images

Last season they finished second to last and have undertaken a pre-season tour to Japan with two games to prepare themselves for the 2017 campaign.

Injured lock Michael Fatialofa has made the tour but he acknowledged its prospective benefits.

"Having this tour to Japan is something we haven't been able to do before. We haven't had the group together for a good two weeks so we can build a bit of a team culture and get to know each other. In past seasons we've been thrown together, have a week of training and then we're in there.

"We're all looking forward to the season.

"We're quite confident. Looking at the team on paper it looks like it is going to be an exciting team to watch. There's a lot of big names there so it will be interesting to see how we all come together," he said.

Fatialofa said the teamwork hadn't always been there in the past and a lot of tries were the result of freak athleticism.

Fatialofa had three years away from Auckland but returned last year after his successful stint in the Super Rugby-winning Hurricanes side. He was happy to rejoin the side he grew up supporting and who he had always wanted to play for.

"It was like a dream come true to play for Auckland, I'm real happy here," he said.

"I was training quite well but then in round six I got injured against the Blues and I've been out since then. I'm still rehabbing my knee and hopefully I'll be back before the back end of Mitre 10 but that is best-case scenario.

He had a clean-up operation that was undone when an infection got into the joint and needed more operations.

"What would have been a six-10-week injury has turned into a six-month injury so it has been quite disappointing and frustrating," he said.

There was a core group of players emerging who were capable of taking the group forward but it was a constantly changing feature for Auckland. Akira and Rieko Ioane had been massive contributors to the side last year but Rieko, at least, was going to be involved with the All Blacks while Fatialofa said he wouldn't be surprised if Akira was also involved in working with the All Blacks more than the Auckland side.

However, among the squad is former Auckland player Malakai Fekitoa who will play before taking up his contract with Toulon in France. Daniel Bowden is available for the five-eighths and impressive New Zealand Under-20s wing Caleb Clark will have his first exposure at first-class level.

In midfield George Moala and TJ Faiane are available from the Blues while in the pack Blake Gibson and Taleni Seu offer fire in the loose while lock Scott Scrafton should make an impact after a big season of Super Rugby with All Black Patrick Tuipulotu also available.

The material is at hand for an improvement and Fatialofa said, "It was really frustrating for us last year because we were trying really hard but things weren't going our way and we were under a lot of pressure from management and the public.

"We just want to give everyone performances that we know we are capable of," he said.