The Highlanders have announced that they have re-signed former All Black legend Brad Thorn, Hayden Parker ,TJ Ioane, Shane Christie and Tamati Ellison for the 2014 Super Rugby season.
Tamati Ellison confirmed that he will remain with the Highlanders - pending a dispensation from New Zealand Rugby - as one of the team's overseas players.
The Highlanders have now locked in a good core of their 37-man squad for 2014 with the remaining positions to be filled in the next three months.
The re-signing of Rugby World Cup Champion lock Brad Thorn is a significant boost for the team as he naturally fills a leadership and mentoring role for young players in the region and will help get the Highlanders' performance back on track. Brad, his wife Mary-Anne and their family, have enjoyed their time in Dunedin and are looking forward to a break in the Deep South leading into the 2014 season.
With first five-eighth Colin Slade still considering his options after the 2013 season, the re-signing of 22-year-old Parker ensures the Highlanders are well served in the number 10 jersey with Lima Sopoaga already secure with the team for another year.
Highlanders' Head Coach Jamie Joseph said he was pleased to have the majority of 2014 players locked in, particularly as players demonstrated a strong commitment to the Highlanders.
"It's great to have Brad on board for 2014 as he brings a great deal of professionalism to any team he plays for. His work ethic, experience and leadership are invaluable for our team and he has been one of the most consistent players this season.
"Hayden in his first year of super rugby has also shown he has the right temperament and skillset to play a lot of games at this level. He has done well and we will benefit from having him in our environment next year."
"TJ has been a revelation this year after filling the huge void created in our team with the loss, through injury, of Nasi Manu. TJ has come on leaps and bounds and will make a significant contribution in 2014"
"I look forward to welcoming Shane Christie who I coached in last year's Maori All Blacks UK tour - he was one of the standout players.
"Shane has been one of the form open side flankers in ITM for a couple of seasons. He has a high work-rate with or without the ball - and can be very destructive at the breakdown. With more game time at this level I believe he will mature into a very good openside. His different style will compliment that of John Hardie's and will be a great benefit to the team.
"One of the lessons I have learnt from contracting players over the past three seasons is the players that are hungry to be part of the team show this by committing early and putting their energy into their rugby. "
"They know what they want and back themselves and the abilities of the team to be successful. Having Ben, Brad, Hayden, Shane, TJ and Tamati commit to the Highlanders after a poor season tells me they are hungry to play rugby - as coach I am excited about that.
We will be watching the ITM Cup competition with great interest as we look to fill the remaining positions in the squad for 2014," Joseph said.
Highlanders' General Manager, Roger Clark, commented that securing the four players along with the earlier signature of Ben Smith gives the Highlanders confidence that plans were on track to move onwards and upwards after a disappointing 2013 season. He said that the security of players in key positions meant the Highlanders' next campaign is already well under way.
"We want to go into next year knowing the players have chosen the Highlanders first, and we want to make the positions competitive," Clark said.