All Black-laden Highlanders squad named
The 2013 Highlanders will be a blend of veteran leadership and youthful exuberance.
The squad - to be captained by All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore, assisted by fellow international, winger Hosea Gear, as vice captain - has famous faces such as Tony Woodcock, Brad Thorn, Ben Smith, Aaron Smith, Tamati Ellison and Ma'a Nonu in its ranks.
There is also room for emerging young talent, with players like Liam Coltman, Hayden Parker and Japanese halfback Fumiaki Tanaka playing their way into the Highlanders on the back of Otago's impressive NPC season.
The most notable omission from today's squad announcement was All Blacks loose forward Adam Thomson - widely expected to be moving overseas to play next season.
''He will be a huge loss for us because he is a player who won games for us by himself last season through the strength of his individual performance,'' Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said.
''He was close to coming back until, I guess, he got an opportunity to go somewhere else... we are disappointed not to have his services because he has been a great guy for us.''
The surprise replacement for Thomson is former Crusader Jake Paringatai, who left New Zealand to play in Japan after a criminal conviction. Joseph said he had been in contact with Paringatai while coaching in Japan, and that he was a much-changed man.
''He is in better shape, both physically and mentally, than what he was back then. Sometimes it takes a few years to mature, and I think he has matured nicely. He gets a crack.''
Jamie Mackintosh - replaced as Highlanders captain and battling to get in the team after the recruitment of All Black prop Tony Woodcock - would still get a chance to push for selection, Joseph said.
''Jamie has done a great job for us in the past two seasons... he has great leadership qualities. With the inclusion of Tony Woodcock and the inability to guarantee game time every weekend we had to get a different captain. Horey was a natural leader, he's from down here, he's captained the All Blacks, pretty obvious.
''My job is to pick the best team available that we can get our hands on, then go out there and try and win the championship... we have more depth with some of our positions - although it's still fingers crossed with injuries - we had a lot of injuries last season. If we keep everyone on the field and create competition from the outside in - which is what the Chiefs created - then I think we will be a lot more competitive this season than we have been in past seasons.''
Josh Bekhuis, Tim Boys, Phil Burleigh, Liam Coltman, Elliot Dixon, Tamati Ellison, Jason Emery, Ma'afu Fia, Hosea Gear, John Hardie, Jarrad Hoeata, Andrew Hore, Chris King, Jamie Mackintosh, Nasi Manu, Brayden Mitchell, Ma'a Nonu, Declan O'Donnell, Jake Paringatai, Kade Poki, Hayden Parker, Buxton Popoalii, Colin Slade, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Fumiaki Tanaka, Brad Thorn, Shaun Treeby, Joe Wheeler, Tony Woodcock