Eight fresh faces for Mooloos in season opener
Waikato will take a potential eight debutants into their first match of the NPC season against Wellington at Westpac Stadium on Saturday (6.35pm kickoff).
With a largely inexperienced squad across the board this year, coach Johnny Walters has named five players in his starting XV who have yet to debut for the Mooloos, while there are a further three on the bench awaiting their first cap.
Lock David Morgan is the sole uncapped starting forward, though has played at ITM Cup level for Northland.
In the backline, youngster Damian McKenzie will start at first five-eighth, having shone for the New Zealand Under-20 side at this year's IRB Junior World Championship.
Alongside him the midfield of Anton Lienert-Brown and Jordan Payne is uncapped, though both debuted for the Chiefs in Super Rugby this year.
Similarly, fullback Albert Nikoro has played for the Blues, but this will be his first match at provincial level.
The uncapped bench players are outside back Shayne Anderson and halfback Harrison, while former Chiefs prop James McGougan is set to debut for his new team after stints with Bay of Plenty and Otago.
''We are excited to finally start the 2014 ITM Cup campaign,'' Walters said.
''We have been working towards this since the start of the year and the players are chomping at the bit to finally get stuck in.''
Waikato will need to hit the ground running if they are to improve on successive fifth-place finishes in the premiership.
After facing last year's runners-up Wellington, they host six-time defending champions Canterbury, then face fellow premiership side Taranaki, with those three games in the space of 12 days.
''It is obviously a pretty tough start for us but we are confident that we have prepared well and are ready for the challenge,'' Walters said.
Waikato: Albert Nikoro, Declan O'Donnell, Jordan Payne, Anton Lienert-Brown, Joe Webber, Damian McKenzie, Brad Weber (c), Adam Burn, Zak Hohneck, Whetu Douglas, David Morgan, Nick Ross, Ben Tameifuna, Brayden Mitchell, Loni Uhila. Res: Hame Faiva, James McGougan, Josh Tyrell, Marty Holah, Harrison Levien, Wharenui Hawera, Shayne Anderson.