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As expected, centre Richard Kahui (shoulder), halfback Brendon Leonard (cheek bone), fullback Robbie Robinson (broken leg) and Andrew Horrell (fractured foot) are on the injured list.
Tim Nanai-Williams will take the field at centre after a solid performance in last week's trial victory over the Hurricanes. Counties midfielder Bundee Aki has been named at second-five and will make his Super Rugby debut, along with winger Patrick Osborne and hooker Rhys Marshall. Hawke's Bay's Marshall, who has yet to play in the ITM Cup, has been named in the reserves.
Former Blues first-five Gareth Anscombe will play at fullback.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said: "It's good to finally start the competition. I know the boys have been training hard and are looking forward to getting stuck into it, especially our new caps."
Chiefs team to play the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Friday, kick-off 7.35pm is: Gareth Anscombe, Patrick Osborne, Tim Nanai-Williams, Bundee Aki, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Fritz Lee, Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke (c), Ben Afeaki, Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Rhys Marshall, Ben Tameifuna, Michael Fitzgerald, Tanerau Latimer, Augustine Pulu, Charlie Ngatai, Lelia Masaga.