Big season in 2025 looms for de Groot

Ethan de Groot is set to captain the Highlanders next season. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES
Ethan de Groot is set to captain the Highlanders next season. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES
One season ends, and another looms up before you know it. Many of the Highlanders players will be back next season but some will be far afield.

Hayden Meikle breaks down the possible 2025 squad.


Regular starter Henry Bell will be back with a good year of development under his belt, and Southland rookie Jack Taylor will also continue to progress. The uncertainty is whether Ricky Jackson remains as the No 3. He is a solid player and has some experience, but the Highlanders may feel there is a better option in the market to make this a really contestable position. There is talk they are interested in Blues prospect Soane Vikena, while Bradley Slater is apparently coming off contract with the Chiefs.


Ethan de Groot will remain the cornerstone of the pack and presumably be the new fulltime captain. Saula Ma’u will be on the other side, while veteran Daniel Lienert-Brown and youngster Rohan Wingham will be back. Accomplished tighthead Jermaine Ainsley is heading to France, it is uncertain whether Ayden Johnstone will return, and Solomone Tukuafu was around the squad as a wider training member. Expect the Highlanders to make at least one signing in this position. Could Rebels rocket Taniela Tupou fancy some time in Dunedin? Are Abraham Pole (Moana Pasifika) or George Bower (Crusaders) keen to come home?


Rising star Fabian Holland and grizzled ex-Crusader Mitch Dunshea will continue their promising partnership. But Pari Pari Parkinson is heading to Japan, and the futures of Will Tucker, Max Hicks and Hugo Plummer are unclear. A major area of focus for the recruitment team.


The big loss (still to be announced, but an open secret) is captain and star loosie Billy Harmon. It will allow Sean Withy a chance to wear No 7, while youngsters Oliver Haig and Will Stodart will join outstanding No 8 Hugh Renton and the versatile Tom Sanders. Nikora Broughton has proven his worth, and Hayden Michaels will be eager for more opportunities. Perhaps one slot open for a loose forward, ideally a big man with ball-running potential, to come out of the NPC.

Highlanders midfielder Tanielu Tele’a, chased here by Brumbies loosie Rob Valetini in Dunedin in...
Highlanders midfielder Tanielu Tele’a, chased here by Brumbies loosie Rob Valetini in Dunedin in March, was excellent in his first season in the South.


Looks to be the most settled position. Folau Fakatava will again jostle with the improving James Arscott and, if he can stay healthy, Nathan Hastie.


Cameron Millar will be the No 10 with Ajay Faleafaga as his back-up. You need three first five options, though, and the cupboard looks fairly bare in the South, so expect the Highlanders to go after a fringe player at another New Zealand squad like Josh Jacomb (Chiefs) or, following the Freddie Burns and Rhys Patchell cameos, seek an experienced foreign hand to keep Millar honest.


Tanielu Tele’a missed a chunk of games through suspension and injury but was otherwise excellent in his first season in the South, Sam Gilbert is too valuable to let go, and Jake Te Hiwi will continue to develop. Josh Timu can play but remains utterly luckless with injury. Matt Whaanga is a good squad option. The future of Thomas Umaga-Jensen is unclear.


Looking good. Timoci Tavatavanawai, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Jona Nareki and Jonah Lowe are under contract, and Finn Hurley’s time has come. But Connor Garden-Bachop is set for Japan, and Pumas winger Martin Bogado is off, so there are two spots open. Josh Whaanga could play his way in with another big NPC season.