Rugby: Highlanders squad near full as three more signed

Chiefs lock Culum Retallick is the most prominent of the three new names added to the Highlanders yesterday.

The franchise has also signed two Manawatu forwards, former University A flanker Doug Tietjens and promising prop Ma'afu Fia.

It has been a busy few weeks for Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph, highlighted by the retention of the bulk of his squad and the glamour signings of former All Black backs Hosea Gear and Tamati Ellison.

The latest bunch might not match that pair for sizzle but it is hoped they will add to the strength of an already formidable forward pack.

Retallick (27) stands 1.99m and weighs 113kg. He has been a regular with the Chiefs and with Bay of Plenty in the ITM Cup, and will join a Highlanders second-row squadron including Josh Bekhuis and Jarrad Hoeata.

"Culum had an option to exit his Chiefs contract and he's a nice addition to our team," Joseph told the Otago Daily Times yesterday.

"He's an aerial lock but he also carries the ball a lot. He's very tall. He's a big guy in the middle of the lineout.

"It's a big move for him but he wants to get in and play some rugby. And he will complement our guys nicely."

Joseph said Retallick's wife was originally from Southland.

The couple were expecting a child soon.

While Retallick has been through two Super 15 campaigns, the Manawatu forwards are rookies.

The signing of Tietjens (27) will raise some eyebrows, given the openside flanker could rise no higher than Otago B in his time in Dunedin.

But he has been a sound performer for the Turbos in the ITM Cup over the last three years, and his Joseph is among his admirers.

"He's one of the most under-rated, accurate players in the country," the Highlanders coach said.

"I think people will find the Doug Tietjens who did his studies in Dunedin has really transformed himself. He's improved his game and he's quite a bit bigger. He's very strong and abrasive over the ball, in the mould of Alando Soakai. He's extremely hardworking. He's a constructive style of No 7, and he's one of the better defenders."

With Soakai gone to Japan, Tietjens will contend with impressive Southlander John Hardie for a place on the side of the scrum.

Up front, relatively unknown tighthead Fia (21) will get a chance to back up and learn from Jamie Mackintosh, Chris King and Bronson Murray.

"Ma'afu was quite widely sought after. We're really pleased to get him," Joseph said.

Joseph said the Highlanders, like all the franchises, had "had a dig" at All Black prop Owen Franks, coming off contract with the Crusaders.

The Highlanders now have 28 players on contract, a far cry from a year ago when Joseph arrived as coach to find just eight players on the books. Franchises must contract a minimum of 30 players and a maximum of 32.

Mackintosh and Bekhuis have each had operations in the last week. They will miss some pre-season work but be available for the first game in February.


Highlanders squad
Contracted players

Forwards: Jamie Mackintosh, Chris King, Bronson Murray, Ma'afu Fia, Andrew Hore, Jason Rutledge, Josh Bekhuis, Jarrad Hoeata, Culum Retallick, Adam Thomson, Nick Crosswell, John Hardie, Doug Tietjens, Nasi Manu, Elliot Dixon.

Backs: Jimmy Cowan, Aaron Smith, Colin Slade, Lima Sopoaga, Shaun Treeby, Tamati Ellison, Kendrick Lynn, Siale Piutau, Hosea Gear, Kade Poki, Telusa Veainu, Kurt Baker, Ben Smith.

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