OPINION: The All Blacks' 2018 season wasn't without its faults, but the reality of 12 wins in 14 games represents yet another stellar campaign for Steve Hansen and his merry men.
However, fans have been left with more questions than answers, when it comes to the make-up of the 31-man squad that will attempt to create history in Japan by winning a third straight World Cup.
Pretenders turned into contenders and in some cases, contenders turned into pretenders.
- Andrew Gourdie: Where's the respect for Steve Hansen?
- Joe Schmidt to walk away from coaching after the World Cup
A year is a long time in rugby. Twelve months ago, names like Karl Tuiinukuafe, Dalton Papalii, Te Toiroa Tahuirorangi or Shannon Frizell barely registered interest among Super Rugby franchises, let alone the All Blacks.
So expect a few more to pop up during the early months of next season. Nehe Milner-Skudder made a late run to earn a spot on the 2015 squad.
It could happen again.
Two things we cannot predict when it comes to the make-up of the team tasked with appeasing the nation's hunger for another William Web Ellis Trophy are form and injury.
Let's face it, Aaron Smith could break his leg in pre-season. Kieran Read could rupture an Achilles in the Super Rugby final or Sonny Bill Williams could be the catalyst for an unlikely victorious Blues campaign that squashes any notion he won't be heading to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Only time will be the judge of who is or isn't in the selectors' sights, come the end of the Super Rugby season.
You could almost guarantee that, at the conclusion of the northern tour, the selectors wrote down their 31-man squad as it stands and they would be foolish not to.
Players will come and go from that, as we count down to September 20, 2019, but the bones of the squad have been established.
Stepping into the mind of Hansen is near impossible, but predicting the names he will write down next year isn't.
On the surface, it appears this selection panel has a 'you play your way out, not in' selection philosophy.
That might not be so easy, given the struggles of some of their favoured players on the recent tour, so with that in mind, here is what the All Blacks World Cup squad could look like next year.
Outside backs: Ben Smith, Damian McKenzie, Jordie Barrett and Rieko Ioane
Barrett's selection on the wing this past weekend was a terrible sign for Waisake Naholo.
The Highlanders flyer started the international campaign as the first-choice right winger, but fell out of favour when McKenzie shifted to fullback.
Barrett's best test performance of 2018 came at the right time and a decent Super Rugby season will get him on the plane ahead of Naholo.
Flexibility is crucial in any tournament, and Barrett, McKenzie and Smith offer that in spades.
Midfield: Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams
Goodhue and Crotty are dead-set certainties, if fit, so pencil the Crusaders duo in now.
Lienert-Brown has never let the jersey down and was one of the most consistent All Blacks of 2018, when given an opportunity.
So it comes down to SBW vs Ngani Laumape.
The Hurricanes bruiser was excellent against the Italians and offers that bulldozing ball-runner the selectors love.
But SBW brings so much to this side in terms of professionalism, work ethic and experience that only injury will prevent him from being included, which is bad luck for the former Warriors centre.
Don't rule out the possibility of a certain Ma'a Nonu getting in the mix either.
First-fives: Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga
Lock these two in, backed up by the versatile McKenzie - a triple-threat of game managers that, if utilised correctly, should have opposition in fits.
Another stellar Crusaders season for Mo'unga and the pressure would be on the selectors to promote the outstanding playmaker to the number 10 jersey.
Halfbacks: Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi
There isn't a lot behind these three to threaten.
Crusaders duo Mitch Drummond and Bryn Hall will likely cancel each other out, while Brad Weber hasn't been the same since his broken leg two years ago.
The interesting development towards the end of the 2018 campaign was the form of TJ Perenara, who must have pushed Smith close for selection for the Irish test. He played a big role in seeing the ABs home against England, while Smith seemed to be dealing with confidence issues.
Tahuriorangi has been excellent in his limited appearances, developing into a genuine bench option for 2019.
Loose forwards: Kieran Read, Luke Whitelock, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Dalton Papalii, Shannon Frizell and Vaea Fifita
This is where things gets interesting - where are Matt Todd and Liam Squire, you say?
Personally, Matt Todd is the most under-utilised rugby player in New Zealand. He should have played 50-60 tests, but his apparent lack of impact and size has seen Cane and Savea favoured.
The emergence of Papalii during the Mitre 10 Cup could spell the end of Todd's ABs career.
The towering Aucklander can legitimately fill all three loose-forward positions and is sure to feature heavily for the Blues. If Cane comes through neck surgery, he will rocket straight back into the starting number seven jersey, leaving Savea to fill his bench role - his end-of-year form was outstanding.
Squire had a year to forget. Injury and lack of form hampered his end-of-year tour, and the introduction of Frizell, who appears to be a more athletic, powerful version of Squire, could hamper his 2019.
Frizell could be used at lock, as well as number eight, and with other versatile players like Fifita and Scott Barrett, Squire could be surplus to requirements.
Speaking of Fifita, he has the match-winning ability you can't ignore and if he stays in the shape he has gotten himself into after his Rugby Championship snub, he will be picked.
Read is a certainty and unless Akira Ioane produces an MVP Super Rugby season, the selectors will side with the reliable Luke Whitelock.
Locks: Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett
The first two are obvious selections, being two of the best forwards in world rugby.
Barrett was outstanding in Retallick's absence against the French, but his form waned as the season went on, which coincided with the return of Patrick Tuipulotu.
The Blues lock was excellent for Auckland during their premiership run and he backed that up in a couple of All Black appearances this month.
Barrett holds the cards at this stage, given his unlimited potential, so a decent Super Rugby season will be enough for selection.
Props: Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala, Joe Moody, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi
Has there ever been more front row depth in All Black history?
The emergence of Tu'inukuafe and Tuungafasi as genuine back-ups to Moody and Franks has been a highlight of 2018.
Laulala's return leaves the selectors with five legitimate first-choice props gunning for a starting berth come the World Cup. It's hard seeing anyone else getting in the mix, if the 'Fantastic Five' stay fit.
Hookers: Dane Coles, Codie Taylor and Nathan Harris
In Coles and Taylor, the All Blacks have the potential of unleashing the greatest one-two hooker combination in rugby history.
The duo have barely had the chance to play together, given Coles' injury woes since the Lions tour 18 months ago. If the Hurricanes hooker can avoid the injury bug in 2019, expect him to wear the number two jersey, with Taylor providing elite impact off the bench.
Harris has the front-running over Liam Coltman and Asafo Aumua. The selectors seem to trust Harris, and he offers a more traditional game than Coles and Taylor, although his cheeky little grubber for Jordie Barrett on the weekend suggests he may be widening his skill set.
Brad Lewis is a digital sports producer for Newshub.