2018 might be something of a difficult year for the Highlanders.
2017 coach Tony Brown has left them, and they have a new head coach for the third time in 3 years, with ex-Crusader and All Black Aaron Mauger taking the whistle from Brown. We are told that the transition has been a smooth and easy one, and that the other candidate for the job, Mark Hammett, was happy to step aside for Mauger and slot in as assistant coach. There was no ego involved, the two candidates debated what would be best for the team and then agreed that Mauger would take the top job and Hammett would focus on the forwards.
The Highlanders have lost a couple of important players, with Marty Banks heading off to Treviso, Gareth Evans moving to the Hurricanes, Malakai Fekitoa abandoning All Black rugby in favour of a massive paycheque at Toulon.
Siua Halanukonuka has gone to Glasgow, Craig Millar and Haydn Parker to the Sunwolves, while long time Highlander Patrick Osbourne has gone off to join Kubota Spears in Japan. Joe Wheeler has also head over to Japan and the Suntory Sungoliaths.
And then there is impending the loss of Lima Sopoaga!
Those are some staunch Highlander troops that have left the barracks!
There are no big-name replacements heading down to Otago either. The only Super Rugby recruit is Tyrel Lomax from the Rebels.
The remainder of the squad still includes some stalwarts, the likes of Aaron Smith, Sopoaga (for now), Richard Buckman, Tevita Li, Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith, Liam Squire, the two Dixons, the other Lienert-Brown..
The 2018 squad looks just a little light…….
The Highlanders Squad for 2018 is:
Forwards: Liam Coltman, Ash Dixon, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Tyrel Lomax, Guy Millar, Aki Seiuli, Siate Tokolahi, Kalolo Tuiloma, Alex Ainley, Josh Dickson, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Pari Pari Parkinson, Elliot Dixon, Shannon Frizell, Dillon Hunt, James Lentjes, Dan Pryor, Liam Squire, Luke Whitelock
Backs: Kayne Hammington, Josh Renton, Aaron Smith, Josh Ioane, Fletcher Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Richard Buckman, Patelesio Tomkinson, Rob Thompson, Teihorangi Walden, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Matt Faddes, Tevita Li, Josh McKay, Tevita Nabura, Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith
Changes to the squad are as follows:
Shannon Frizell (Tasman)
Josh Ioane (Otago)
Tyrel Lomax (Rebels)
Josh McKay (Canterbury)
Tevita Nabura (Counties Manukau)
Pari Pari Parkinson (Tasman)
Kalolo Tuiloma (Counties Manukau)
Thomas Umaga-Jensen (Wellington)
Marty Banks (Treviso)
Shane Christie (Tasman)
Jason Emery (Manawatu)
Gareth Evans (Hurricanes)
Malakai Fekitoa (Toulon)
Siua Halanukonuka (Glasgow)
Craig Millar (Sunwolves)
Patrick Osbourne (Kubota Spears)
Hayden Parker (Sunwolves)
Sekonaia Pole (Otago)
Adrian Smith (North Harbour)
Tupou Sopoaga (Southland)
Joe Wheeler (Suntory Sungoliath)