The HITO-Communications Sunwolves may be in a slightly better position ahead of the 2017 Super Rugby season than they were before their debut this year, but head coach Filo Tiatia is aware that his side still face many challenges as they enter the new season.
Of the 36 players in next year's Sunwolves squad, 21 of them have Super Rugby experience, up from just six last season.
The 2017 team list and jerseys were unveiled during a press conference in Tokyo yesterday.
But the Sunwolves will face far more experienced teams in their South African and Australian counterparts, whom Tiatia estimates have been in the tournament for 22 years.
The Kiwi, who was named head coach in September, told the Singapore media in a Skype interview: "It's not just the players (who have to keep learning and improving); it's the organisation, the Sunwolves franchise and the coaching team - and how you put that all together is a challenge in itself.
NOT FOR THE FAINT-HEARTED
It's an entirely different environment playing from top league to Super Rugby - Super Rugby is really close to Test rugby, so the intensity can come as a big shock.
FILO TIATIA, Sunwolves coach, on the challenges facing the team in Super Rugby.
"It's all new for the players and the organisation because it's an entirely different environment playing from top league to Super Rugby - Super Rugby is really close to Test rugby, so the intensity can come as a big shock."
Another challenge the Sunwolves face is the short time available for preparation. The Japanese Top League ends in mid-January, followed by two rounds of the season-ending All Japan Championship, leaving the Sunwolves with about three weeks to train before their opening match against defending champions Wellington Hurricanes in Tokyo on Feb 25.
There is also the challenge of long-distance travel, as the Sunwolves are estimated to cover about 110,000km next season playing matches in Tokyo, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand and at the Singapore Sports Hub.
Still, the 45-year-old Tiatia is looking forward to these challenges. "Last year we travelled the most among all the Super Rugby teams and this year we've inherited that 'gold medal' of travelling the most again," the former All Black said.
"It is what it is, but we have to be better educated in how we recover after travelling in different time zones, and how we have meetings while travelling.
"There are lots of things that we can learn from last year's experiences."
The Sunwolves finished bottom of the standings last season with 13 losses, a win and a draw, but Tiatia insisted his emphasis next year goes beyond chasing more wins.
"The challenge for us is how do we get better... there's a lot of areas we need to improve as opposed to getting by in front of everyone," he said. "So, we're going to prepare as well as we can every week.
"It's not going to be perfect and we're going to make lots of mistakes, but we'll limit those by learning from them, and that's how we get better."
•Tickets to the 2017 Super Rugby Season at the Singapore Sports Hub go on sale today from $30. They are available via sportshub.com.sg, the Sports Hub Tix Box Office, calling (+65) 3158 7888 and all SingPost outlets.