A new-look Waikato pack will face its first big test in Hamilton tomorrow with Australian and Southland imports shoring up the front row.
The Mooloos open their NPC account, and put the Ranfurly Shield on the line for their first serious defence of the season, when they take on Northland at Waikato Stadium.
They will do it with four forwards who have not previously started a national championship game for the province.
Auckland-born Melbourne Rebels tighthead prop Paul Alo-Emile, whose family moved to Brisbane when he was four years old, will start in the No 3 jersey with new Rebels signing Toby Smith coming back early from the Chiefs' Super Rugby final victory to join him on the other side of the front row.
In-between will be Highlanders and former Southland Stags hooker Brayden Mitchell, who overcame an injury suffered in the shield defence against East Coast to take his place.
For the 130kg Alo-Emile, who is just 21, this is all about getting valuable experience through regular starts in the tough arena of New Zealand provincial rugby.
The former Australian Schools and Under-20 representative had about 18 games, mostly off the bench, for the Rebels.
"I want to be a starting prop. I want to learn a lot more so I can better myself," Alo-Emile said.
"That's why I have come here as well as to experience another side of rugby. The competition here is really fierce and a lot better than what club rugby could offer me back home."
Alo-Emile was thrilled to come here knowing Smith had signed for the Rebels for next season and hoped they can strike up a combination that they can take back to Melbourne.
"I've started to get to know him and he's a really great bloke. He's already teaching me some things which is really good hopefully for our combination next year."
He has already experienced how tough the rugby is here in pre-season and shield games.
"I've been bashed around for the past few weeks now and of the trial games we've had, that first one against the East Coast was probably one of the most physical I've played."
Mitchell, 24, had not played since he injured his knee in the East Coast match and after he missed most of the Super Rugby season with a dislocated collarbone.
He is hungry for top level rugby before returning to Dunedin for another season with the Highlanders.
"I've been a bit injury prone lately so it did have me a wee bit worried for a while there, but touch wood I get through the game on Saturday," Mitchell said.
He comes to Waikato with Ranfurly Shield-winning experience with Southland and hoping for a fresh boost to his game.
"It was just a change really - get out of my comfort zone. I think I just needed a change and getting out of Southland and coming here was a good wee change for me, a good wee challenge and just what I needed to further my rugby career."
With new skipper Matt Vant Leven and new signing Ben Tameifuna still on leave after helping the Chiefs win their second Super Rugby title, Waikato will field a relatively young, and inexperienced, pack.
Teenage lock Brian Alainu'uese, who has scored a try in all three pre-season matches he played in, gets a start, as does New Zealand Under-20 No 8 Adam Burn, who got a cap as a replacement against Counties Manukau last season.
Waikato's backline has a more experienced look to it with former Taranaki halfback Kylem O'Donnell - the brother of Declan O'Donnell who is out for the season with a serious shoulder injury - the only newcomer.
New faces on the bench include Australian halfback Mick Snowden and 21-year-old Fijian-born wing/fullback Semisi Masirewa.
New Waikato coach John Walters said they had planned not to have any of their injured players but all of them had come right thanks to the medical staff.
"Not only have they passed fitness tests but we've put them through a fairly gruelling sort of contact session this morning and they all passed with flying colours," Walters said.
HOW THEY LINE UP
WAIKATO: Trent Renata, Tim Mikkelson, Save Tokula, Jackson Willison (c), Joe Webber, Sam Christie, Kylem O'Donnell, Adam Burn, Jack Lam, Rory Grice, Sam Kilgour, Brian Alainu'uese, Paul Alo-Emile, Brayden Mitchell, Toby Smith. Reserves: Vance Elliott, Latu Talakai, Chris Middleton, Jono Armstrong, Mick Snowden, Joe Perawiti, Semisi Masirewa
NORTHLAND: Mathew Wright, Whiria Meltzer, Rene Ranger, Derek Carpenter, Mateo Malupo, Ben Seymour, Sonatane Takulua, Jake Paringatai, Jack Ram, Dan Pryor, Bryce Williams, Tom Murday, Scott Vessey, Ross Wright, Bronson Murray. Reserves: Robbie Abel, Justin Davies, Owen Pihema, William Whetton, Mac Sykes, Daniel Hawkins, Warren Dunn
- © Fairfax NZ News