There are six new faces and two returning familiar faces among the Highlanders squad announced today. The squad features 22 forwards and 17 backs and will again be co-captained by Ash Dixon and Aaron Smith.
A returning familiar face is former All Black Liam Squire who last played for the team in 2019 and has been back in NZ rehabilitating an injury after a brief stint playing in Japan, he is expected to be back to full fitness by the time the competition starts in February. The big loose forward at full fitness will add some punch to an already exciting looking set of loose forwards with the exciting Japanese World Cup player Kazuki Himeno included along with former Crusader Billy Harmon and James Lentjes returning from injury after missing Super Rugby Aotearoa in 2020.
The front row club will have extended depth with the arrival of Wallaby front rower Jermaine Ainsley and former Highlander Josh Hohneck. Established locks Josh Dickson, Paripari Parkinson, Manaaki Selby-Rickit will be joined by former All Black Bryn Evans recently returned from the UK where he had distinguished career for London Irish, Biarritz and the Sale Sharks, his brother Gareth played 44 games for the Highlanders.
The arrival of former Crusader Fetuli Paea and Soloma Alaimalo will provide some more firepower to the back division and the return from injury of Sam Gilbert and Connor Garden-Bachop will be a welcome addition.
Head Coach Tony Brown who will be joined by Assistant Coaches Clarke Dermody, Riki Flutey and newly appointed Defence Coach Shane Christie. He is excited by the squad that will assemble in early January before their opening game against the Crusaders on Friday 26 February.
“I feel like we are bit more experienced this year - with the likes of Bryn Evans, Liam Squire and Josh Hohneck who have all played a lot of top level rugby and Jimmy Lentjes coming back and of course two very experienced captains in Aaron and Ash we have a better balance to our squad.”
“We certainly have a bit more strike power in the backs as well and I’m excited to see how returning players like Sam (Gilbert), CGB (Connor Garden-Bachop) and Thomas (Umaga-Jensen) come back and combine with our new arrivals Fetuli (Paea) and Solomon (Alaimalo)”
Highlanders Squad 2021
Front Row: Daniel Lienert-Brown, Jeff Thwaites, Ayden Johnstone, Ethan De Groot, Jermaine Ainsley*, Siate Tokolahi, Josh Hohneck**, Liam Coltman, Ash Dixon, Ricky Jackson
Locks: Paripari Parkinson, Josh Dickson, Manaaki Selby-Rickit , Bryn Evans*
Loosies: Shannon Frizell, Sione Misiloi, James Lentjes, Billy Harmon*, Kazuki Himeno*, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Teariki Ben- Nicholas, Liam Squire**
Half- Backs: Aaron Smith, Kayne Hammington, Folau Fakatava
First-Five: Josh Ioane, Mitchell Hunt
Midfield: Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Patelesio Tomkinson, Michael Collins, Fetuli Paea*, Scott Gregory
Outside Backs: Jona Nareki, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Vilimoni Koroi***, Solomon Alaimalo*, Sam Gilbert, Connor Garden-Bachop, Ngatungane Punivai
Not back from 2020: Jack Whetton (NSW), Dillon Hunt (Blues), Rob Thompson ( Japan) Bryn Gatland (Chiefs), Jesse Parete (Japan), Josh Iosefa-Scott, Zane Kapeli, Kirisi Kuridrani, Teihorangi Walden, Tevita Nabura, Josh McKay
*New Highlanders in 2021
**Returning Highlanders in 2021
***Vili Koroi will assemble with NZ sevens team in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics