Smith top of the wanted list for Highlanders

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 18/05/2013
Ben Smith
Getty Images
WANTED: Ben Smith in action for the Highlanders.

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Ben Smith will be a prime target for the Highlanders when they ramp up their contract negotiations during the June test window.

Smith is the only home-grown current All Black on the franchise's roster and the competition's form fullback is an important part of the Highlanders, chief executive Roger Clark said.

"He's been one of our best players every year while I've been here," Clark said. "Every week you know exactly what you get from Ben, so he's obviously somebody that we've been working with (the New Zealand Rugby Union) to sign for quite a long time - well before Christmas last year, really. For everyone's sake, we'll be pretty pleased if we can get him across the line at some stage."

The Highlanders have about 16 players confirmed for next season, which is on a par with their recruitment process at the same time last year.

Brad Thorn and Ma'a Nonu were both signed to one-year deals during the summer and their future remains uncertain.

"Ma'a, it's no secret that New Zealand are trying to retain him and so are we. With Brad, it's one of those deals where he'll decide at the end of the year whether he still wants to keep playing football and we have to make a call on him as well, I suppose. Whether he stays in New Zealand is not something any of us have contemplated at this stage."

Aaron Smith is confirmed for next season, while Tony Woodcock will be in the second season of a two-year deal, but Japanese international Fumiaki Tanaka will be off contract.

Clark said there was usually some activity in the player market in late June, possibly because of the encouragement of the All Black selectors.

"I would suggest that by the end of June, beginning of July, we'll be in the same position we were last year, with about 20 guys contracted and most of the other franchise will be in a similar situation. The Blues would be the only one who would have more than that because they signed quite a few."

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