Crusaders Head Coach Todd Blackadder has named his squad to contest the 2014 Super Rugby competition which includes five new members and twenty seven players returning from the 2013 Crusaders squad.
One of the five new faces in the squad is actually a returning face and very familiar to most New Zealand rugby fans. Colin Slade played for the Crusaders in 2009 and 2010 mainly on the wing and at fullback, but shifted to the Highlanders in 2011 in order to gain more playing time at first five eighth.
He already has 26 Crusaders caps under his belt and has played for Canterbury since 2008. Slade has also had an impressive international career, playing for the New Zealand Under 19 and Under 21 sides, the Junior All Blacks, and then for the All Blacks in 2010, 2011 and as injury cover in 2013.
Blackadder says it is fantastic to welcome Slade back into the fold: "The experience and talent that Colin Slade adds to this group is immense. He'll be a crucial member of the team, especially at first five while Dan Carter is on extended leave, but he has the advantage of being able to play virtually anywhere in the back line."
Also returning to his roots in joining the Crusaders squad is prop Tim Perry. Born in Ashburton, schooled at St Andrews College and playing for Tasman in the ITM Cup, Perry hails from Crusaders-country, however it was at the Blues that he made his Super Rugby debut last season. Perry has represented New Zealand at Secondary School, Under-19 and Heartland levels.
"Tim Perry has been particularly impressive for Tasman over the past couple of seasons. He is a tough, brawny player and it is great to have him back at home with the Crusaders," Blackadder said.
The youngest member of the 2014 squad will be Mitchell Drummond, who will turn twenty just as the competition begins.
A former Nelson College First XV captain, Drummond was a member of the New Zealand Barbarians secondary schools rugby team last year, was selected in the New Zealand under-19 touch team, and was one of six school students chosen to train with the All Black Sevens team at a training camp early this year.
Drummond moved south at the beginning of this year to further his rugby career at the Canterbury Rugby Union Academy. He earned a spot in this year's Canterbury ITM Cup squad and Blackadder has also seen enough promise in the young halfback to call him into the Crusaders squad.
"Mitch is young, but he has natural talent, fine pedigree and the right attitude to take him far. He will continue to benefit from working alongside our experienced halfbacks, Andy Ellis and Willi Heinz, as he has done in this year's ITM Cup. We are excited about his future," Blackadder said.
Adding some firepower to the midfield is Rey Lee-Lo. Lee-Lo played his debut Super Rugby season with the Hurricanes last year after being part of the Chiefs development squad in 2011. He is a physical and powerful back who caught the Crusaders' attention with some impressive statistics playing for both Counties and the Hurricanes.
"Rey will really help to bolster our midfield stock. He is a strong player, has a good rugby brain, and puts in the hard yards. I think he will fit in really well in the Crusaders environment," Blackadder said.
Huge Fijian winger, Nemani Nadolo, will make an impact on the Crusaders' back line in 2014. Currently playing for NEC Green Rockets in the Japan Top League, Nadolo has also captained the Fijian Warriors team and spent one Super Rugby season with the Waratahs in 2009.
Todd Blackadder said he is set to be one of the most exciting players in the 2014 Super Rugby competition.
"At 1.95m and nearly 130kg, he is an absolute hulk of a man, yet he can fly down the field like you wouldn't believe for a man that size. Comparisons have been drawn with Jonah Lomu, and we can't wait to work with him and unleash him in this competition," Blackadder said.
Crusaders 2014 Super Rugby Squad
Dominic Bird , Tyler Bleyendaal , Daniel Carter , Wyatt Crockett , Ryan Crotty , Israel Dagg ,Mitchell Drummond ,Andy Ellis ,Corey Flynn , Owen Franks ,Ben Funnell ,Zac Guildford ,Willi Heinz ,Nepo Laulala ,Rey Lee-Lo ,Richie McCaw ,Johnny McNicholl ,Joe Moody ,Nemani Nadolo ,Tim Perry ,Kieran Read ,Luke Romano ,Colin Slade ,Jordan Taufua ,Codie Taylor Tom Taylor, Matt Todd , Jimmy Tupou, Adam Whitelock ,George Whitelock , Luke Whitelock , Sam Whitelock
Wider Training Group
Jed Brown ,Kieron Fonotia ,Mike Kainga , Rob Thompson, Nafi Tuitavake