With his future confirmed at the Highlanders at least until 2026, Ethan de Groot faces one of his scrum tests of the season when going up against All Blacks teammate Tyrel Lomax when playing the Hurricanes in their Super Rugby Pacific game in Dunedin on Saturday.

De Groot, and his tighthead prop ally, Jermaine Ainsley, have been providing a rock-solid foundation for the Highlanders this season, but the Hurricanes will provide another test.

"It's going to be a good challenge, and I'm excited to play against my mate.

"Jermain has been unreal, and our hookers. And the guys behind like Pari Pari [Parkinson] – he's a freak, a 130kg lock, and it's pretty tough to push him back. And there's Josh Dickson."

De Groot said deciding to continue his involvement with the Highlanders was an easy decision to make. He didn't look at other options.

"Dunedin is the place I call home now, even though I am from further south. I've got a house and stuff here now, and I'm enjoying it.

"I'm always grateful to wear the Highlanders' jersey week-in and week-out. I never thought I would be a Highlander or reach as far as I have, so I still pinch myself every day when I rock up and get to catch balls from Aaron Smith and that sort of stuff."

De Groot admitted being excluded from last season's first All Blacks squad had rocked him.

"No one likes being left out, and it happened to me. It lit a fire in my belly, and I went away and worked on myself, which paid dividends.

"My goal this year is the World Cup – I want to go to France."

Once that has been completed, he will look at his future year by year. Winning a title with the Highlanders remains a goal.

Highlanders' assistant coach Richard Whiffin said while the side had put together three consecutive wins after a tough start, they expected the level to go up a notch against the Hurricanes.

"They're a fantastic team, with top All Blacks who give them some real X-factor, and they're a well-coached team.

"We're excited to see how these last three weeks, with our game evolving, how that looks against another Kiwi team."

With injury pressures easing in the squad, there was more pressure on selection for places in the starting XV.

No8 Hugh Renton and flanker Sean Withy have grasped chances as others have been injured.

"Sean has fought hard through the year, making that selection challenging. But from a coaching point of view, the pleasing thing is we've got strength there, so we can pick for the type of game we want to play and mix and match.

"It gives us a little more flexibility around the style of game we want to play."

That situation should only improve as the team has a bye week next week, with more players expected to be available for selection.

The Highlanders take on the Hurricanes at 7.05pm NZT on Saturday 8 April at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin.