Season of change as long-term players move on

It will be a different looking Highlanders squad that is named for the 2020 season tonight. Photo...
It will be a different looking Highlanders squad that is named for the 2020 season tonight. Photo: Getty Images
A new era for the Highlanders will begin tonight with the naming of the squad for next season.

The squad, which has been released in dribs and drabs over the past couple of months, will have some different faces from previous years but it looks one that will bring a degree of optimism.

The days when horse trading occurred in the selection of teams, and players came up in drafts while others moved out of the reckoning have long gone.

Franchise direct contracting ended that charade.

The Highlanders have been active in the recruitment process since last season ended and have already announced most of their acquisitions for 2020.

It is going to be a season of change as long-term players move on.

Co-captain Ben Smith is moving to France while loose forwards Liam Squire and Luke Whitelock have also moved on, again to overseas clubs, and promising prop Tyrel Lomax has moved to the Hurricanes after two seasons.

Others who have moved on are locks Tom Franklin and Jackson Hemopo, who have signed with Japanese clubs, while first five-eighth Marty Banks is also set to play in Japan.

The other big loss in the backline, apart from Smith, is winger Waisake Naholo.

Lomax is a big loss from the Highlanders front row but most of the other props are returning while Otago's George Bower is expected to join the Highlanders after an encouraging first season with the Crusaders last season.

Liam Coltman will continue to be the leading hooker. Ash Dixon appeared to be heading out the exit door at the end of last season but may come back for another year. The third hooker last year was Ray Niuia, who was barely sighted and is unlikely to return.

Locks Josh Dickson, Pari Pari Parkinson and Jack Whetton are back again for next season and it is time for them to stand up.

Southland lock Maanaki Selby-Rickit is also expected to join the squad for next year although he has a court sentencing this Friday hanging over him.

The loose forwards have had some losses but still are expected to have a solid core. Big Otago loose forward Sione Misiloi joins and he will have Shannon Frizell, Marino Mikaele Tu'u, James Lentjes and Dillon Hunt alongside him.

There appears to be no room for Otago loose forwards Dylan Nel and Slade McDowall, who were initially not in the frame, and little appears to have changed.

Aaron Smith, Kayne Hammington and Folau Fokotava will be back as the squad's three halfbacks while, outside them, Josh Ioane and Bryn Gatland are expected back from last year along with Mitch Hunt coming down from the Crusaders.

There are plenty of new faces in the midfield and on the outsides.

Connor Garden-Bachop, Scott Gregory, Jona Nareki, Ngane Punivai and Michael Collins have all been signed for next season.

Winger Tevita Nabura, who badly injured his knee in training before the start of last season, has been working his way back to full fitness and there are big expectations concerning him.

As for who will replace Smith at the back, the onus will be on Josh McKay or Collins to fill those sizeable boots.


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