Aussie sailing ace Jimmy Spithill has wasted no time talking up Team New Zealand as clearcut favourites to defend the America's Cup next year.
Spithill is familiar with what's required to beat the Kiwis, after going toe-to-toe with the crew over the last two regattas, emerging victorious with Oracle in 2013, before finishing on the wrong side of an 8-1 loss in Bermuda three years ago.
Now with Italian syndicate Luna Rossa, Spithill was on hand for the launch of their second boat at Auckland's Viaduct Harbour, where he was full of praise for the home team.
"To me, they are the clear favourites, no two ways about it," Spithill says. "They are in the home waters, they’ve had a lot of sailing time down here.
"I thought with their first boat, they did a really nice job. They are always very innovative, very practical, and logical and tough.
"They have incredible sailing talent on the boat."
The 41-year-old is careful not to wade too far into speculation on how his boat matches up against the hosts, conscious plenty of work remains during the challenger series.
Luna Rossa need to overcome American Magic and INEOS Team UK in the Prada Cup regatta next January and February before earning that privilege.
"We have got enough on as it is getting through the challenger series," Spithill says. "That’s going to be a fight in itself.
“It's a real tough group here. No-one is lacking anything.
"Everyone has got the money and technology, the resource, there is no excuse - it will be a good series.
"But taking on the Kiwis in the home waters, man, that’s going to be a tough one."
Through the last two regattas, the plucky Aussie established a reputation as a sailing larrikin, who enjoyed stirring the pot, fast becoming the villain NZ sports fans loved to hate, but always with a healthy dose of respect.
The back-and-forth banter is sure to heat up as crunch-time nears, but until then, Spithill is adamant both he and his crew need to prove themselves on the harbour.
"For any competition, results do the talking," he notes. "You can talk as much as you want on the land - and in the America’s Cup, there is a lot of that - but at the end of the day, they’ll give the trophy to the team that win on the water.
"It's just a healthy respect. People love seeing competitive teams come out here.
"We like to think we are going to be competitive, and it’s all going to come down to the second boat and who does the best job developing from now on.
"These boats are just starting their lives - there's a lot of boat speed to be found in these things."
After beginning his America's Cup career in Auckland in 2000, Spithill confesses he has a soft spot for New Zealand and relatively COVID-19-free conditions only add to the sentimentality.
"It's been awesome to get back to New Zealand, because I started here 20 years ago, just on a barge tied up against the apartments, which was popular," he laughs.
"New Zealand is a great place to come down to and what a fortunate place to be holding the Cup.
"Let's face it, we are very, very blessed to be down here, working, out in a crowd, going to see the All Blacks and the Wallabies ... very lucky and very thankful.
"I’m just looking forward to going racing."