Rugby: Who will stay and who will go in '14?

Highlanders skipper Andrew Hore charges forward during the Blues game on Saturday. Photo by...
Highlanders skipper Andrew Hore charges forward during the Blues game on Saturday. Photo by Gerard O'Brien
Ma'a Nonu (left) and Brad Thorn watch the pre-season match between the Highlanders and the...
Ma'a Nonu (left) and Brad Thorn watch the pre-season match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders in Oamaru in February.
Hosea Gear skips away from Blues fullback Charles Piutau for a try at Forsyth Barr Stadium on...
Hosea Gear skips away from Blues fullback Charles Piutau for a try at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday. Photo by Gerard O'Brien

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has said it. The fans are thinking it. And with two wins from 13 games, it is not a bad time to look at it. How will the Highlanders shape up in 2014. Rugby writer Steve Hepburn looks at the make-up of a possible squad next year.

 

The front row

Staying put: Hooker Liam Coltman is tied into a three year deal, while Tony Woodcock has another year to go on his deal. Ma'afu Fia is also likely to return.

Maybes: Andrew Hore will be 35 if he comes back next year. All depends on his All Black future, one thinks. He is slow out of the blocks and needs to be more dynamic. Can his ageing body do that? And do you retain him as captain? Jamie Mackintosh wants to come back, the franchise wants him, but for the sake of his career maybe he needs to go elsewhere. Chris King has picked up a serious chest injury, and at 32, his future is cloudy.

Goneburgers: Brayden Mitchell may be off as he picks up injuries and appears to have plateaued somewhat. Good bloke, Bronson Murray, but surely there must be someone younger.

New boys: Southland has a couple of young fresh props, while Sam Anderson-Heather is a quality hooker for Otago. The front row needs more energy and that comes with some younger, fresh faces.

Locks

Staying put: Josh Bekhuis will be coming back and the way he played last Saturday against the Blues will reignite All Black talk. Jarrad Hoeata is back again and he is more a lock than a blindside.

Maybes: Big Brad Thorn has talked about wanting to come back and has been one of the best this year for the side but may head overseas. Most aged 38 would stop playing, but he shows no sign of slowing down.

New boys: Otago lock Tom Franklin has really improved his game this year and has athletic ability and size. If he keeps up that progress he surely must be in the side next year. Maybe Jason Eaton could move south to team up with buddy Hore.

Loose forwards

Staying put: John Hardie has come back well from an injury-ruined season last year, while the injured Nasi Manu should be back again. TJ Ioane cannot be faulted for his efforts at this level this season.

Maybes: Joe Wheeler has another year on his deal but flatters to deceive. He does the easy things well but makes too many errors. Elliot Dixon is into his third year at this level and still looks a rookie. But the coach seems to have a soft spot for him. Hugh Blake needs to play well for Otago.

Goneburgers: Tim Boys has a sore neck and age is catching up with him. Jake Paringatai is believed to be heading back to Japan via Northland. Has never had an opportunity but his performances in club rugby suggest there was a reason for that.

New boys: Paul Grant must have mowed Jamie Joseph's lawns badly, for he seems to be unwanted by the Highlanders. Gareth Evans looks the goods and is an athlete, but is he big enough? What about the likes of Canterbury's Jordan Taufau or former Highlander Nick Crosswell.

Inside backs

Staying put: Aaron Smith should forget 2013 and think about 2012. He will be back.

Maybes: A week ago you would have written Colin Slade off. But on Saturday night he showed what he can do. Signing or not signing him is a gamble. Hayden Parker is steady and should come back again. Lima Sopoaga looks more like a fullback. In a loose match he is useful but gets injured a lot. As for Fumiaki Tanaka, all depends on Japan and contracts. But should he be there instead of a New Zealand halfback?

Goneburgers: Frae Wilson could walk down the main street of Dunedin and no-one would know him.

New boys: Southland halfback Taylor Adams is in the New Zealand Colts and could be a good bet. But quality inside backs do not grow on trees these days.

Midfield backs

Staying put: Shaun Treeby will remain, as will youngster Jason Emery.

Maybes: Ma'a Nonu's future depends on the All Blacks. If you are an established All Black then who you play for at Super 15 level is almost irrelevant. They all get paid the same, so it is where you feel most comfortable. Phil Burleigh has a dodgy shoulder and his future is unclear.

Goneburgers: Tamati Ellison is off to Japan.

New boys: Otago supplies three midfield backs to the New Zealand Colts, and Jayden Spence is also around. Up to them to perform in the next few months.

Outside backs

Staying put: Highlanders boss Roger Clark's No 1 priority is to get Ben Smith to sign for another season or two at least. Losing Smith would be like Kobe Bryant leaving the Lakers. Unthinkable.

Maybes: Kade Poki has flirted with Japan, but on form is an asset. Buxton Popoali'i has had a season ruined by injury but has talent. Trent Renata - what has been seen of him - is a handy player. Tony Ensor is entering the tough second season at ITM Cup level.

Goneburgers: Hosea Gear is heading to France. And hard to see Tino Nemani being handed the keys to the city.

New boys: No-one compelling, but plenty of opportunity for young guys. Someone like Joe Webber from Waikato.

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