The Pulse Energy Highlanders will have a fresh new look in 2020 with 15 players in their first season with the southern-most Super Rugby club.
Head Coach, Aaron Mauger, and his coaches have worked hard in the off season to put together a talented squad of players capable of playing the Highlanders’ style of rugby.
“We were very clear on our selection criteria and we believe we have assembled an exciting squad that includes some very talented new players that all have the ability to contribute to our game”, said Mauger.
There is plenty of experience in the forwards with Liam Coltman, Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siate Tokolahi and James Lentjes having 367 caps between them and newcomers Jeff Thwaites (11 games) and Jesse Parete (24 games) have already experienced Super Rugby with the Chiefs. A player with a different sort of experience is loose forward Zane Kapeli having just returned from the Japan RWC where he represented Tonga and was dubbed “Zane the Train” after one memorable tackle on English number 8, Billy Vunipola. Kapeli (27), a former rugby league player and currently working as a builder, has previously played for both Waikato and the Bay of Plenty Steamers.
Hard working Southland prop Ethan de Groot may have had his Mitre 10 season cut short by injury but at just 20 years of age he is already shown enough promise to warrant a Super Rugby contract and looks a good prospect for the future. Another player with a bright future is Wellington loose forward, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, who gains his first Super Rugby selection after a standout Mitre 10 season. A NZ U20 representative in 2015 and a NZ Universities representative in 2018, he is a strong ball carrier that can make good metres and is skillful with ball in hand.
Three proficient and experienced five-eights, Josh Ioane, Mitch Hunt and Bryn Gatland provide good depth in a crucial position while further out big Fijian winger, Tevita Nabura, who has spent most of the year recuperating from a season ending knee injury, with his size and pace he should give defenders a lot to think about under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium. He will be joined by fellow Fijian outside back Chris Kuridrani (younger brother of Crusader Nemani Nadolo) who played for Counties-Manuaku during the Mitre 10 Cup and has experience with the Queensland Reds (25 games). The addition of local player and Mitre 10 standout, Jona Nareki, to the outside backs will give coach Mauger plenty of options for pace and power out wide.
Mauger is satisfied the 2020 squad has the attributes his coaching team were searching for, “It’s a squad that have all earned their spots through hard work and consistent performances and because of that we expect they will represent the jersey and our community with pride during the 2020 season”.
The coaching group of Mauger (Defence), Tony Brown (Attack), Mark Hammett (Forwards), Clarke Dermody (Defence/Forwards) and Riki Flutey (Skills) will need to hit the ground running as the first round of Super Rugby is scheduled to be played on weekend of the 30th January 2020.
“As a coaching group we are looking forward to 2020 and meeting the challenges that a new season inevitably presents. Our job will be to set the right conditions for our players to get the best out of themselves and if we can get that right then we give ourselves the best chance of doing well.”
2020 Pulse Energy Highlanders Squad
Hookers: Liam Coltman, Ash Dixon, Ricky Jackson*
Props: Daniel Lienert-Brown, Josh Iosefa-Scott, Ayden Johnstone, Siate Tokolahi, Jeff Thwaites*, Ethan De Groot*
Locks: Pari Pari Parkinson, Josh Dickson, Jack Whetton, Manaaki Selby-Rickit*
Loosies: James Lentjes, Dillon Hunt, Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Shannon Frizell, Sione Misiloi*, Zane Kapeli*, Teariki Ben-Nicholas*, Jesse Parete*
Halfbacks: Aaron Smith, Kayne Hammington, Folau Fakatava
First-Fives: Bryn Gatland, Josh Ioane, Mitch Hunt*
Midfielders: Rob Thompson, Patelesio Tomkinson, Teihorangi Walden, Thomas Umaga-Jensen**, Scott Gregory***
Outside Backs: Ngane Punivai*, Jona Nareki*, Tevita Nabura, Josh McKay, Michael Collins*, Kirisi Kuridrani*, Connor Garden-Bachop*
*Denotes Debut season for Highlanders in 2020
** Thomas Umaga-Jensen is recovering from shoulder surgery and is not expected to return to play until April 2020.
*** Scott Gregory will join the All Blacks Sevens Squad during the Super Rugby Competition.