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Team Preview 2019: The Highlanders

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019    allblacks.com    Getty Images

Last year: Sixth
Home: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Squad:
Liam Coltman, Ash Dixon, Ray Niuia*, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Josh Iosefa-Scott*, Ayden Johnstone *, Siate Tokolahi, Tyrel Lomax, Sef Fa’agase*, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Pari Pari Parkinson, Josh Dickson, Jack Whetton*, Luke Whitelock, Liam Squire, James Lentjes, Dillon Hunt, Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Shannon Frizell, Elliot Dixon, Aaron Smith, Kayne Hammington, Folau Fakatava*, Bryn Gatland*, Josh Ioane, Marty Banks, Rob Thompson, Patelesio Tomkinson, Teihorangi Walden, Richard Buckman, Matt Faddes, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Waisake Naholo, Tevita Li, Tevita Nabura , Josh McKay , Ben Smith

Unavailable due to long term injury: Aki Seiuli, Kalolo Tuiloma

KEY SIGNING
With All Blacks playmaker Lima Sopoaga now plying his trade in the UK and handy back-up Fletcher Smith shifting to the Hurricanes, the Highlanders have done well to scoop promising North Harbour pivot Bryn Gatland for the 2019 season. Gatland impressed across 15 appearances for the Blues in 2017 and 2018 and has been a standout performer at Mitre 10 Cup level for the Hibiscus. At 23-years-old and with plenty of big game experience behind him, Gatland will be looking to make the number 10 jersey his own at the Highlanders. While the skilful playmaker may have the inside running for the 10 jersey, he will face a stiff challenge from returning veteran Marty Banks and impressive Otago youngster Josh Ioane. 

QUICK TAP: SQUIRE CONFIDENT HIGHLANDERS HAVE FIRST FIVE COVERED

RETURNING VETERAN
With 88 Investec Super Rugby caps under his belt (split between the Crusaders and Highlanders), powerful No.8 Luke Whitelock can now rightly be considered in the veteran category. A powerful ball carrier, reliable defender and ever present around the park, Whitelock is the perfect foil to the Highlanders explosive loose forwards Liam Squire, Elliott Dixon and Shannon Frizzel. Whitelock’s value as a leader cannot be understated also. This was recognised when he captained the All Blacks against Japan in Tokyo last year and he will be looking for more success this year as one of the key leaders in the Highlanders squad.
IMPACT PLAYER
At 2.04cm and 120kg there won’t be many bigger players floating around Super Rugby than Highlanders lock Pari Pari Parkinson. After making his debut for the Highlanders in 2018, Parkinson developed swiftly throughout the season and was one of the stars of the Mitre 10 Cup for Tasman with 51 lineout takes in the season. A great commodity in the air, Parkinson will also bring a strong physical edge to the Highlanders pack in 2019. While 2018 was a year of great development for Parkinson, 2019 could be the year he stamps his mark as one of the leading second-rowers in the country.

THE SCOOP
Stacked with attacking potential out wide and the most loose forward depth of any team in the competition, there are two main areas of concern for the Highlanders in 2019. With stalwart Lima Sopoaga missing from the roster this year, the Highlanders will need one of Josh Ioane, Marty Banks or Bryn Gatland to step up as the lead pivot. The other area is in the tight five where the Highlanders have been out-gunned on occasion in recent seasons. With some serious grunt power inserted into the squad this year, and three promising options at first five-eighths, the Highlanders could well be a Super Rugby contender come September.