2018 Highlanders squad:
Ben Smith, Josh McKay, Tevita Li, Waisake Naholo, Tevita Nabura, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Richard Buckman, Patelesio Tomkinson, Matt Faddes, Rob Thompson, Teihorangi Walden, Lima Sopoaga, Fletcher Smith, Josh Ioane, Josh Renton, Kayne Hammington, Aaron Smith
Luke Whitelock, Liam Squire, Elliott Dixon, Shannon Frizell, Dillon Hunt, James Lentjens, Dan Pryor, Alex Ainley, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Josh Dickson, Pari Pari Parkinson, Kalolo Tuiloma, Siate Tokolahi, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Tyrel Lomax, Aki Seiuli, Guy Millar, Ash Dixon, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Liam Coltman.
They will name a (temporary) replacement for injured James Lentjens in the next few days.
Eight new faces feature in the Highlanders' 38-man squad for 2018. The squad, named this morning, features eight current or former All Blacks and seven Maori All Blacks. Among the newcomers are Otago first five-eighth Josh Ioane and three Ta$man players in Shannon Frizell, Pari Pari Parkinson and Tyrel Lomax. Wellington midfielder Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Counties players prop Kalolo Tuiloma and outside back Tevita Nabura were both included, as was Canterbury outside back Josh McKay.
Official media release: http://thehighlanders.co.nz/news/852-pulse-energy-highlanders-announce-squad-for-2018
I'm curious to know whether or not this is the end for Brendon Edmonds, he was around the camp last year, but after sitting out the HB campaign and not being mentioned, he might be finally retiring after the issues in the 2016 season.
I'm excited to see what they plan on doing with the centre spot, from what I can see the players selected are more second-fives than centres - with only Faddes and Tomkinson being out and out 13s. I think they would be better off pairing two of the more traditional second-fives in the midfield with two of Umaga-Jensen, Thompson and Buckman making up the midfield. Although Fekitoa's defensive capabilities were heavily relied upon during 2017, and the closest like for like out of the options defensively would be Sio Tomkinson.
Wings will also be interesting, can the flat track bully Tevita Li come through, and replicate his Mitre 10 Cup form, or will he fall away again. I must admit, I haven't seen too much of McKay or Nabura.
I'm expecting to see a big year from Dillon Hunt, while Elliot Dixon will be hurting after a fairly substandard 2017, although I can see him being quite useful off the bench, or providing good rotation for Whitelock and Squire.
Jackson Hemopo and Tom Franklin should provide some fantastic go-forward in the locking department, and will be one of the more mobile locking pairs in the competition.
As much as I rate Ash Dixon, I would have liked to have seen the NZR pull some strings and send Ricky Riticelli down to Dunedin where he would get more game time, than being the third string at the Hurricanes.
Depth at nine and 10 could really hurt us too, if either Smith or Sopoaga go down, that's the season over. I would have kept Ruru over Renton, who is absolutely rubbish.
Really impressed with Aaron Mauger and his coaching team's foresight in picking a lot of young talent too.
Looking at a top match day 22, here's what I'd go with.
Tyler Lomax/Siate Tokolahi
Tyler Lomax/Siate Tokolahi
Elliot Dixon/Josh DIckson/Alex Ainley
It's a steady side that can rip sides to shreds, they will need to start the campaign well and avoid injuries in key positions. I'll go for beaten semi-finalists.
Highlanders bring in Shield Snorters loose forward
Shield Snorters loose forward Marino Mikaele Tu'u has been called into the Highlanders.
The 20-year-old has made the New Zealand under-20 side for the past two years and will replace the injured James Lentjes.
Lentjes had a shoulder operation last month and is scheduled to get back on the field in April.
Tu'u is seen as a No8 who can also play on the blindside flank so it not a straightforward swap for Lentjes.
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said he was comfortable with the cover he had on the openside flank with Dillon Hunt and Dan Pryor both capable of wearing the No7 jersey.
He said Tu'u had impressed them with his ball-carrying ability, had nice footwork and was a player of considerable promise.
It was an opportunity to get Tu'u down into the camp and have a good look at him.
Elliot Dixon was also capable of playing openside flank but the former All Black was on the sideline at the moment after an operation to fix a damaged bicep. He was scheduled to play again in mid-February.
Dixon has been replaced in the squad by loose forward Phil Halder, who impressed for Southland. Halder (24), like Tu'u, is yet to play Super Rugby.
And another Magpie winds up at a franchise other than the Canes.
Surprised that Renton has been surpassed in the rankings though (when he finally started looking the goods).
I think Hugh Renton has suffered a lot from the general misery at the Shield Snorters and who knows what impact his (incredibly sad) private circumstances (which I don't want to post on a public forum) have had on him this year.
Ben Smith and Ash Dixon have been confirmed as the co-Captains for the Pulse Energy Highlanders for the second year running.
Highlanders Bravehearts Side to play Crusader Knights (Saturday 10 March, k/o 1.30pm @ Linfield Park, Christchurch) :
1 Guy Millar
2 Sekonia Pole
3 Kalolo Tuiloma
4 Paripari Parkinson
5 Josh Dickson (vc)
6 Kyle Harris
7 Phil Halder
8 Hame Toma
9 Kayne Hammington (c)
10 Josh Ioane
11 Yoshikazu Fujita
12 Terence Hepetema
13 Sio Tomkinson
14 Josh Timu
15 Josh McKay
16. Sam Sturgess
17. Morgan Mitchell
18. Jonah Aoina
19. Maanaki Selby-Rickit
20. Joketani Koroi
21. Taiki Koyama
22. Matt Whaanga
23. Taylor Haugh