2023 brings the arrival of a new Super Rugby Pacific season and a new captain for the Highlanders.
Experienced loose forward, Billy Harmon, will take the reins of the team for 2023, fresh from skippering Canterbury to a National Provincial Championship (NPC) final and being selected in the All Blacks XV northern tour. He will be able to draw on the experience of players of the calibre of Otago Captain, James Lentjes, and the Highlanders’ most capped player, All Black Aaron Smith. Harmon’s credentials for the role had not gone unnoticed by Dermody.
“From my very first discussion with Billy he was keen to do the job. Clearly his level of play on the field is always top-notch but he also brings some great leadership skills to the role. He is a pretty calm and collected sort of a guy and I thought he did an outstanding job with Canterbury this year. I am sure he will add a great deal to our leadership environment this season.”
Head Coach Clarke Dermody believes he has assembled a good blend of youth and experience in his 2023 squad and as a former Highlander front rower is satisfied, he has what he needs in the forwards to compete.
“When you have players with the Super Rugby experience of Makalio, Marshall, De Groot, Ainsley, Johnstone, Dickson, Mikaele-Tu’u and Frizell, you have a core of guys who know what it takes to deliver at that level. Then you combine that with the younger talent available, the likes of Parkinson, Withy, Holland, and others, I believe we have the makings of a very competitive pack.”
The backs strike force has been bolstered by the arrival of former Chiefs’ winger Jonah Lowe, along with Otago flyer, Jona Nareki, who is returning after an injury ruled out his 2022 Super Rugby Pacific aspirations.
“We’ve seen a lot of good constructive play from our backs in the various teams they’ve represented at NPC level. We’re excited that we have some experience in our game drivers at 9 and 10, some real power in the midfield and a little bit of magic out wide. It’s a pretty settled group in the backs, most of whom have been with us before and I’m sure they will want to create plenty of tries this season” said Dermody.
The squad includes 22 forwards and 16 backs with just three Super Rugby debutants in Bay of Plenty loose forward Nikora Broughton, Otago lock Will Tucker and teammate first-five Cameron Miller.
Broughton had a stand-out U20 tournament as captain of the winning NZ Barbarians team and Otago pivot Cameron Miller was selected for the NZ U20 team from the same tournament. Will Tucker has returned from playing for the Major League Rugby Champions Rugby New York and all have had accomplished NPC seasons, impressing Dermody.
“Will, Cam and Nikora have all demonstrated their potential over the last 12 months and we believe they have bright Super Rugby futures in front of them and it’s always exciting to see younger talent come through and imagine what they could achieve in a Highlanders’ jersey”.
HIGHLANDERS 2023 SQUAD
Backs: James Arscott, Connor Garden-Bachop, Marty Banks, Mosese Dawai, Folau Fakatava, Sam Gilbert, Scott Gregory, Mitch Hunt, Vilimoni Koroi, Jonah Lowe, Cameron Millar, Jona Nareki, Fetuli Paea, Aaron Smith, Josh Timu, Thomas Umaga-Jensen
Forwards: Jermaine Ainsley, Leni Apisai, Nikora Broughton, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Josh Dickson, Shannon Frizell, Ethan De Groot, Billy Harmon (Capt.), Max Hicks, Fabian Holland, Luca Inch, Ayden Johnstone, James Lentjes, Andrew Makalio, Rhys Marshall, Saula Ma’u, Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Pari Pari Parkinson, Hugh Renton, Jeff Thwaites, Will Tucker, Sean Withy