Continuity biggest plus for Highlanders

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger announces the Highlanders 2018 squad yesterday. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger announces the Highlanders 2018 squad yesterday. Photo: Peter McIntosh
A couple of big bruisers from up north, some exciting Tasman forwards and nippy backs.

There is some genuine talent coming into the Highlanders next year but perhaps the biggest plus for the side is the return of 30 players from last season.

Most of the key men are back on board and that continuity in the squad can never be undervalued.

New coach Aaron Mauger announced the squad yesterday morning, outlining his goals for the coming season and discussing the new players.

He did not name a captain - that is still under discussion - but indicated the side would likely go down the co-captain route again.

Mauger felt the side was sitting fine as next season approached.

''We have got 30 guys coming back so we are in a pretty good place. All those guys are proven performers for this team,'' Mauger said.

He said the eight new players were really just replacing those who have moved on.

''It is an opportunity for us to bring that enthusiasm and energy into the group and help shape it going forward.

''In terms of where we are at, I think we are in a really strong position. I think we have selected well for the type of game we want to play.

''We want to back ourselves, show how smart we are and our innovation. We want to be a team which excites our fans as well. We have a fantastic stadium out here, we want to make sure we use it and play a great brand of footy.''

Mauger said the three coaches coming from Canterbury was not relevant at all and it was about the Highlanders moving forward.

Fullback and last year's co-captain Ben Smith is on a sabbatical but Mauger said he was still keeping in touch with the side.

''He is on the phone and is really excited about the 2018 season. We are lucky he is a pretty special character. He loves this team and has been a real help to the coaches in taking this team forward. We are trying to get him away for a holiday but he wants to stay involved.''

Mauger said nothing had been confirmed as to when Smith would come back and start training with the side.

The big loss for the team is former All Black centre Malakai Fekitoa but Mauger is confident he has the replacements within the team.

''We are blessed really. We've got guys - Matt Faddes, Richard Buckman, Rob Thompson, Tei Walden too - who have done a great job over the years.

''Then there is two young exciting guys coming through in Sio Tomkinson and Thomas Umaga-Jensen, who has been one of the form midfielders in the Mitre 10 Cup. We're in a great position there and we're really excited to help those guys grow.''

There was some speculation the side was looking for a veteran first five-eighth but it has instead picked Otago pivots Fletcher Smith and Josh Ioane as the back-ups for Lima Sopoaga.

Tasman provides three new players in prop Tyrel Lomax, loose forward Shannon Frizell and young lock Paro Pari Parkinson.

Big Counties-Manukau tighthead prop Kalolo Tuiloma and speedy winger Tevita Nabura, also from the Steelers, come into the side, as do Wellington's Umaga-Jensen and Canterbury's Josh McKay in the backs.

Otago flanker James Lentjes is out with a shoulder injury until late March and a replacement is due to be named in the next few days.

The side will come together for training at the end of this month and its All Blacks and Maori All Blacks join training in the new year.

The side kicks off the Super Rugby season against the Blues on February 23 - 113 days away.

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