Highlanders Super rugby head coach Aaron Mauger has named six Highlander debutants in his team to play the Sharks in the season opener at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Friday
There will be first time appearances for first five Mitch Hunt and wings Jona Nareki and Tima Fainga’anuku.
Looking to debut off the bench is the versatile former Blues player, Michael Collins, who is joined by loose forward, Teariki Ben-Nicholas and lock cover Jesse Parete.
Having made his debut in 2016 and becoming a backline mainstay since, Rob Thompson will play his 50th game for the Highlanders on Friday.
A strong running centre his experience and midfield combination with Josh Ioane should provide plenty of attacking firepower against the Sharks who started their season with a win in round one.
Coach Mauger said the team are looking forward to the occasion, “the squad has worked very hard during the preseason and the players are excited by the opportunity to play in front of our home supporters at our stadium.”
The team will be captained by Otago loose forward James Lentjes.
Jeff Thwaites (foot), Tevita Nabura (back), Thomas Umaga-Jensen (shoulder), Teihorangi Walden (ribs), Ngane Punivai (knee) were all unavailable due to injury while Connor Garden-Bachop (back), Ricky Jackson (ankle) have ruled out for the season.
1. Ayden Johnstone 2. Liam Coltman 3. Siate Tokolahi 4. Paripari Parkinson 5. Josh Dickson 6. Dillon Hunt 7. James Lentjes (C) 8. Marino Mikaele Tu’u 9. Aaron Smith 10. Mitch Hunt 11. Jona Nareki 12. Josh Ioane 13. Rob Thompson 14. Tima Fainga’anuku 15. Josh McKay
Replacements : 16. Ash Dixon 17. Daniel Lienert-Brown 18. Josh Iosefa-Scott 19. Jesse Parete 20. Shannon Frizell 21. Kayne Hammington 22. Michael Collins 23. Teariki Ben-Nicholas