Twenty-one rookies, five overseas returnees, and five club transfers among the features of the five NZ Super Rugby Pacific squads.
NZR has contracted a total of 190 players across the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders, with each club naming 38-strong squads for the 2023 season.
Moana Pasifika, the Fijian Drua and five Australian-based clubs will announce their squads in coming weeks for what is shaping as a competitive and unpredictable second season of DHL Super Rugby Pacific when it kicks off on Friday 24 February.
Among the five squads announced today is an impressive group of 'rookies', players who have earned their first full DHL Super Rugby Pacific contract.
The Blues, rookies include loose forward Rob Rush, son of former All Black and Chiefs wing Eric, and wing Caleb Tangitau, who has emerged through the All Blacks Sevens programme.
At the Highlanders, Netherlands-born lock Fabian Holland, 2.04m tall, has impressed in the New Zealand U20s and in two call-up appearances in Super Rugby Pacific in 2022, while the Crusaders have called up 19-year-old halfback Noah Hotham, making him the youngest player across the five New Zealand squads.
Counties Manukau try-scoring machine, wing Peniasi (Benji) Malimali joins the Chiefs, while at the Hurricanes, loose forward Peter Lakai is rewarded after helping Wellington win the Bunnings Warehouse NPC title.
The official New Zealand Rugby (NZR) rookies’ class of 2023 is:
Highlanders (6): Cameron Millar, Fabian Holland, Luca Inch, Nikora Broughton, James Arscott, Will Tucker.
Crusaders (5): Christian Lio-Willie, George Bell, Noah Hotham, Taha Kemara, Macca Springer.
Chiefs (3): George Dyer, Jared Profitt, Peniasi Malimali.
Hurricanes (4): Jacob Devery, Peter Lakai, Riley Higgins, Daniel Sinkinson.
Blues (3): Josh Fusitu’a, Rob Rush, Caleb Tangitau.
A cast of experienced international players have returned to New Zealand across the five squads including former England international halfback Willi Heinz. At 35-years-young, Heinz returns to the Crusaders after seven years overseas as the oldest contracted player and is joined by former Blues star Melani Nanai, also back from a stint in England. Nanai last played Super Rugby in 2019.
Big lock Patrick Tuipulotu and mercurial back Damian McKenzie re-join the Blues and Chiefs respectively after a season in Japan, and similarly former All Black first-five Brett Cameron’s form for Manawatu in the Bunnings Warehouse NPC sees him picked up by the Hurricanes.
A quiet off-season transfer market saw only five players swap their club colours within New Zealand:
Kini Naholo – Crusaders to Hurricanes
Ngatungane Punivai – Highlanders to Chiefs
Manaaki Selby-Rickit – Highlanders to Chiefs
Pepesana Patafilo – Hurricanes to Crusaders
Jonah Lowe – Chiefs to Highlanders
There will be seven sets of brothers across the five New Zealand clubs with the Akira and Rieko Ioane at the Blues, Julian and Ardie Savea at the Hurricanes, Beauden, Scott and Jordie Barrett (Blues, Crusaders & Hurricanes), Anton and Daniel Lienert-Brown (Chiefs & Highlanders), Bailyn and Zarn Sullivan (Hurricanes & Blues), James and Will Tucker (Blues & Highlanders), and the Umaga-Jensen twins, Peter (Hurricanes) and Thomas (Highlanders).
NZR General Manager Professional Rugby & Performance Chris Lendrum said:
“It’s always an exciting time of the year to see the DHL Super Rugby Pacific squads and I’m sure fans will be debating the merits of their team today and in the coming days as we look forward to what’s shaping as an extremely competitive 2023 season.
“For New Zealand Rugby it’s especially satisfying to see the names of the players who have earned their first full time contract. We know how hard those players have worked to get there and it’s encouraging to see these talented players emerging through our development systems.
“It’s also great to see number of highly experienced players return to DHL Super Rugby Pacific from overseas. Those individuals provide invaluable guidance on and off the field for our younger players and it’s that mix of experience and youth that often lead to successful teams.”
New Zealand Rugby’s five 2023 DHL Super Rugby Pacific squads are as follows.
Hookers: Kurt Eklund, Soane Vikena, Ricky Riccitelli.
Props: Alex Hodgman, James Lay, Ofa Tuungafasi, Marcel Renata, Nepo Laulala, Josh Fusitu’a*.
Locks: James Tucker, Sam Darry, Patrick Tuipulotu.
Loose forwards: Cameron Suafoa, Taine Plumtree, Tom Robinson, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Anton Segner, Hoskins Sotutu, Adrian Choat, Rob Rush*.
Halfbacks: Finlay Christie, Sam Nock, Taufa Funaki.
First-five-eighths: Beauden Barrett, Harry Plummer.
Midfield: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Tanielu Tele’a, Rieko Ioane, Corey Evans, Bryce Heem.
Outside backs: Mark Telea, Caleb Clarke, AJ Lam, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Caleb Tangitau*, Stephen Perofeta, Zarn Sullivan.
Key Gains: Patrick Tuipulotu (Japan), James Lay (injury).
On the move: Karl Tu’inukuafe (France), Josh Goodhue (Japan), Tamati Tua (TBC), Luke Romano (Retired).
Hookers: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Bradley Slater, Tyrone Thompson
Props: Aidan Ross, Atunaisa Moli, Angus Ta’avao, Ollie Norris, George Dyer*, Jared Proffit*.
Locks: Tupou Vaa’i, Brodie Retallick, Laghlan McWhannell, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Josh Lord, Manaaki Selby-Rickit
Loose forwards: Sam Cane, Luke Jacobson, Simon Parker, Pita Gus Sowakula, Kaylum Boshier, Samipeni Finau.
Halfbacks: Brad Weber, Xavier Roe, Cortez Ratima
First five-eighths: Bryn Gatland, Damian McKenzie, Josh Ioane.
Midfielders: Alex Nankivell, Quinn Tupaea, Anton Lienert-Brown, Rameka Poihipi, Gideon Wrampling, Ngatungane Punivai.
Outside backs: Emoni Narawa, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Shaun Stevenson, Rivez Reihana, Peniasi Malimali*.
Key Gains: Damian McKenzie (Japan); Manaaki Selby-Rickit (Highlanders), Ngatungane Punivai (Highlanders).
On the move: Kaleb Trask (Japan), Jonah Lowe (Highlanders), Chase Tiatia (TBC).
Hookers: Asafo Aumua, Dane Coles, Jacob Devery*.
Props: Tevita Mafileo, Owen Franks, Xavier Numia, Tyrel Lomax, Pasilio Tosi, Pouri Rakete-Stones.
Locks: James Blackwell, Dom Bird, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Justin Sangster.
Loose forwards: Brayden Iose, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Ardie Savea, Tyler Laubscher, Devan Flanders, Caleb Delany, TK Howden, Peter Lakai*.
Halfbacks: Jamie Booth, TJ Perenara, Cam Roigard
First-five-eighths: Aidan Morgan, Ruben Love, Brett Cameron.
Midfield: Riley Higgins*, Billy Proctor, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Bailyn Sullivan.
Outside backs: Julian Savea, Jordie Barrett, Salesi Rayasi, Josh Moorby, Kini Naholo, Daniel Sinkinson*.
Key Gains: Kini Naholo (Crusaders), Brett Cameron (Japan).
On the move: Scott Scrafton (Italy), Jackson Garden-Bachop (Japan), Pepesana Patafilo (Crusaders), Wes Goosen (Scotland).
Hookers: Codie Taylor, Brodie McAlister, George Bell*.
Props: Joe Moody, Oli Jager, Fletcher Newell, George Bower, Tamaiti Williams, Finlay Brewis
Locks: Scott Barrett, Quentin Strange, Mitchell Dunshea, Sam Whitelock, Zach Gallagher
Loose forwards: Tom Christie, Ethan Blackadder, Sione Havili Talitui, Cullen Grace, Dominic Gardiner, Corey Kellow, Christian Lio-Willie*.
Halfbacks: Mitch Drummond, Willie Hienz, Noah Hotham*.
First-five-eighths: Richie Mo’unga, Fergus Burke, Taha Kemara*.
Midfield: Jack Goodhue, David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Dallas McLeod
Outside backs: Chay Fihaki, Sevu Reece, Will Jordan, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Macca Springer*, Melani Nanai, Pepesana Patafilo.
Key Gains: Pepesano Patafilo (Hurricanes), Melani Nanai (Worcester), Willi Heinz (Worcester).
On the move: Pablo Matera (Japan), Bryn Hall (Japan), Simon Hickey (Japan), George Bridge (France), Kini Naholo (Hurricanes).
Hookers: Rhys Marshall, Andrew Makalio, Leni Apisai.
Props: Ayden Johnstone, Jeff Thwaites, Ethan de Groot, Jermaine Ainsley, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Saula Ma’u, Luca Inch*.
Locks: Pari-Pari Parkinson, Josh Dickson, Max Hicks, Will Tucker*, Fabian Holland*,
Loose forwards: James Lentjes, Billy Harmon, Hugh Renton, Shannon Frizell, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Sean Withy, Nikora Broughton*.
Halfbacks: Aaron Smith, Folau Fakatava, James Arscott*.
First-five-eighths: Marty Banks, Mitchell Hunt, Cameron Millar.
Midfield: Fetuli Paea, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Scott Gregory, Josh Timu
Outside backs: Connor Garden-Bachop, Mosese Dawai, Vilimoni Koroi, Jona Nareki, Jonah Lowe, Sam Gilbert.
Key Gains: Jonah Lowe (Chiefs).
On the move: Liam Coltman (France), Maanaki Selby-Rickit (Chiefs), Kayne Hammington (Japan), Patelesio Tomkinson (Wales), Ngatungane Punivai (Chiefs).
*Denotes players on a full DHL Super Rugby Pacific contract for the first time.