Harmon returns, Millar ruled out for Highlanders

Billy Harmon returns for the Highlanders, sharing captaincy duties with his replacement Ethan de...
Billy Harmon returns for the Highlanders, sharing captaincy duties with his replacement Ethan de Groot. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Ethan de Groot has been named Highlanders co-captain for Sunday's clash with the Fijian Drua, despite the return of regular skipper Billy Harmon for the must-win match. 

The game is shaping up to be a thrilling encounter at Forsyth Barr Stadium, the final scheduled home game of the 2024 season.

Both teams are vying for a crucial play-off berth, separated by only two points on the table and occupying the last two playoff spots.

The Highlanders will be bolstered by the return of seasoned campaigners Billy Harmon and Jona Nareki, who will take their places at No. 8 and on the left wing, respectively.

Young talent Ajay Falefaga, who impressed earlier this season on debut, will step up to steer the team at first-five with Cameron Millar ruled out for this week’s game.

Highlanders head coach, Clarke Dermody, while disappointed for Millar, was confident in his replacement.

"Ajay has a played a few games as an emerging 10 this season and he’s fit and ready and really excited to get out on the field for our last home game this weekend.

"He’s been working hard with the coaches and Rhys [Patchell] on his ability to control the game and I’m looking forward to seeing that on Sunday."

In the midfield, Sam Gilbert will cover for the injured Tanielu Tele’a, who sustained a knee injury in last week’s match against the Blues, while Jake Te Hiwi shifts to centre to accommodate Gilbert.

Connor Garden-Bachop re-joins the squad after a brief injury hiatus, and Matt Whaanga is on track for his second appearance in 2024.

Leadership duties will be shared by Billy Harmon and Ethan de Groot, the latter having taken over the captaincy during Harmon’s injury absence.

"Ethan’s done a great job in Billy’s absence and being able to utilise their differing skillsets this weekend as co-captains is going to benefit the team," Dermody said.

Sunday’s game also marks the annual celebration of grassroots rugby, the Highlanders Club Round.

All junior registered club rugby kids are invited to attend the game in their club kits.

The halftime break will feature the eagerly anticipated junior club rugby relay, where defending champions, the Green Island Grizzlies, aim to retain their 2023 title.

Adding to the festivities, Highlanders players will referee more than 20 junior metro rugby games on Saturday morning, experiencing the game from the other side of the whistle.

Kick off at 2:05pm, Sunday, May 26, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin.

Highlanders team

Ethan de Groot (co-captain)

Henry Bell

Jermaine Ainsley

Mitch Dunshea

Fabian Holland

Oliver Haig

Sean Withy

Billy Harmon (co-captain)

Folau Fakatava

Ajay Falefaga

Jona Nareki

Sam Gilbert

Jake Te Hiwi

Timoci Tavatavanawai

Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens


Jack Taylor

Daniel Lienert-Brown

Saula Ma’u

Max Hicks

Nikora Broughton

James Arscott

Matt Whaanga

Connor Garden-Bachop