NZ franchises reveal their Super Rugby squads
SQUAD ANNOUNCEMENTS: New Zealand’s five Super Rugby franchises have revealed their squads ahead of the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season.
For the Blues, a fresh face with a familiar name is the newest recruit for the new season.
Northland blindside flank Rob Rush, son of former All Black and Sevens legend, Eric Rush, has joined the squad for the first time.
Rush attended Saint Kentigern College in Auckland and Kerikeri High School in Northland, living and playing in the Blues region with club stints at East Tamaki, East Coast Bays, Kaeo and currently Mid-Northern as well as Northland representative level teams.
In his own unique way, Rush explained what it means to be selected in his first Blues squad.
“I was definitely cheering, but also grateful to be part of the boys for the coming season,” said Rush.
“As a newbie to the squad, I can’t wait to pick the brains of those who’ve been around the barracks for a while. At the same time, I’m not going to back down to them. I can’t wait for everything to kick off.”
While the core of the Hurricanes squad is maintained from 2022, five new signings have been named, with four players in line to make their Hurricanes debut when the competition kicks off on February 25.
Waikato outside back Dan Sinkinson, Taranaki’s Kini Naholo and Manawatū’s Brett Cameron join the franchise for the first time, and Wellington up and comers, Riley Higgins and Peter Lakai sign their first professional Super Rugby contracts with the Hurricanes.
Meanwhile, the Crusaders have unveild a 38-strong playing group are made up of familiar faces and some brand-new talent, assembling at Rugby Park in Christchurch in early December.
Exciting news for Canterbury fans is the full contract awarded to hooker George Bell. The 20-year-old (turning 21 less than a month before the Crusaders first game of the season) has been on the road to Super Rugby selection since joining the Crusaders Academy. His performances for Canterbury in the NPC in 2022 impressed selectors and fans alike.
Equally promising is flyhalf Taha Kemara, a Waikato local in his second year out of high school who’s plied his trade so far with Waikato in the NPC. The 19-year-old has been on the Crusaders radar for some time and his move south brings depth and youth to the squad.
Tasman Makos star Macca Springer has been awarded his first Super Rugby contract with the Crusaders for the 2023 season. The 19-year-old outside back spent some of 2022 as a development player with the Crusaders and is part of the Crusaders Academy.
Long-time Crusaders fans will recognise the name Willi Heinz from his time playing in the red and black from 2010-2015, and the team is excited to welcome him back into the fold in 2023 as halfback. He shot over to England to play for Gloucester and the Worcester Warriors before earning a birth-rite spot in the England national team in 2019 and winning 19 caps at international level – including facing the All Blacks at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Samoan international and former Blues player Melani Nanai returns to home soil for a stint as outside back with the Crusaders after spending the last few seasons with the Worcester Warriors in the UK. Keen watchers will remember his 64 caps for the Blues between 2015-2019.
Wellington local Pepesana Patafilo joins the red and black after making his Super Rugby debut with the Hurricanes in 2021. The outside back made four appearances for the Samoa U20 side in 2015, and he impressed with his footwork and speed on Wellington’s way to their first NPC title in 22 years.
The Highlanders have revealed a new captain for the upcoming season.
Experienced loose forward, Billy Harmon, will take the reins of the team for 2023, fresh from skippering Canterbury to a National Provincial Championship (NPC) final and being selected in the All Blacks XV northern tour.
He will be able to draw on the experience of players of the calibre of Otago captain, James Lentjes, and the Highlanders’ most capped player, All Black Aaron Smith. Harmon’s credentials for the role had not gone unnoticed by Dermody.
The backs strike force has been bolstered by the arrival of former Chiefs’ wing Jonah Lowe, along with Otago flyer, Jona Nareki, who is returning after an injury ruled out his 2022 Super Rugby Pacific aspirations.
Of the new additions to the Chiefs’ squad in 2023, two are transfers from the Highlanders who bring with them many seasons of Super Rugby experience.
The 24-year-old Ngatungane Punivai has four Super Rugby seasons already under his belt, two with the Crusaders before his time with the Highlanders. His versatility across wing and centre positions is advantageous and he has put in quality performances this season with Bunnings Warehouse NPC runner-up, Canterbury.
Bay of Plenty Lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit also transfers from the Highlanders adding further height, standing at 2.03m, and depth to the squad.
Counties Manukau rookie Peniasi Malimali will make his Super Rugby Pacific debut for the Chiefs in the new year, with his explosive speed, the 25-year-old Fijian will be an asset on the wing.
Taranaki prop, Jared Proffit, secures his first full-time Super Rugby Pacific contact in 2023 off the back of his debut for the Hurricanes during the 2022 season. Recently, Proffit was awarded Yarrows Taranaki Bulls Forward of the Year for his efforts during the Bunnings Warehouse NPC season.
In addition to the new recruits, Damian McKenzie returns to the Chiefs after his season stint with the Tokyo Sungoliath.
The All Black will reunite with Bryn Gatland and Rivez Reihana to form a very talented first-five trio for the season.
NZ’s Super Rugby squads:
Highlanders 2023 Squad
Backs: James Arscott, Connor Garden-Bachop, Marty Banks, Mosese Dawai, Folau Fakatava, Sam Gilbert, Scott Gregory, Mitch Hunt, Vilimoni Koroi, Jonah Lowe, Cameron Millar, Jona Nareki, Fetuli Paea, Aaron Smith, Josh Timu, Thomas Umaga-Jensen.
Forwards: Jermaine Ainsley, Leni Apisai, Nikora Broughton, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Josh Dickson, Shannon Frizell, Ethan De Groot, Billy Harmon (captain), Max Hicks, Fabian Holland, Luca Inch, Ayden Johnstone, James Lentjes, Andrew Makalio, Rhys Marshall, Saula Ma’u, Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Pari Pari Parkinson, Hugh Renton, Jeff Thwaites, Will Tucker, Sean Withy.
Crusaders 2023 Squad:
Forwards: Joe Moody, Finlay Brewis, George Bower, Oli Jager, Tamaiti Williams, Fletcher Newell, Codie Taylor, Brodie McAlister, George Bell, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Quinten Strange, Mitchel Dunshea, Zach Gallagher, Ethan Blackadder, Tom Christie, Cullen Grace, Sione Havili Taliutui, Corey Kellow, Dominic Gardener, Christian Lio-Willie.
Backs: Mitch Drummond, Noah Hotham, Willi Heniz, Richie Mo’unga, Fergus Burke, Taha Kemara, Dallas McLeod, David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, Leicester Faianga’anuku, Sevu Reece, Will Jordan, Macca Springer, Chay Fihaki, Melani Nanai, Pepesana Patafilo.
Chiefs 2023 Squad:
Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Kaylum Boshier, Sam Cane, George Dyer, Samipeni Finau, Bryn Gatland, Josh Ioane, Luke Jacobson, Anton Lienert-Brown, Josh Lord, Peniasi Malimali, Damian McKenzie, Laghlan McWhannell, Atunaisa Moli, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Alex Nankivell, Emoni Narawa, Ollie Norris, Simon Parker, Rameka Poihipi, Jared Proffit, Ngantungane Punivai, Cortez-Lee Ratima, Rivez Reihana, Brodie Retallick, Xavier Roe, Aidan Ross, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Bradley Slater, Pita Gus Sowakula, Shaun Stevenson, Angus Ta’avao, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Tyrone Thompson, Quinn Tupaea, Tupou Vaa’i, Brad Weber, Gideon Wrampling,
The 2023 Hurricanes squad:
Forwards: Owen Franks, Tyrel Lomax, Tevita Mafileo, Xavier Numia, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Pasilio Tosi, Asafo Aumua, Dane Coles, Jacob Devery, Dominic Bird, James Blackwell, Caleb Delany, Justin Sangster, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Devan Flanders, Tekamaka Howden, Brayden Iose, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Peter Lakai, Tyler Laubscher, Reed Prinsep, Ardie Savea.
Backs: Jamie Booth, Brett Cameron, TJ Perenara, Aidan Morgan, Cam Roigard, Riley Higgins, Billy Proctor, Bailyn Sullivan, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Jordie Barrett, Ruben Love, Joshua Moorby, Kini Naholo, Salesi Rayasi, Julian Savea, Dan Sinkinson.
Blues 2023 squad:
Forwards: Adrian Choat (Auckland), Sam Darry (Canterbury), Kurt Eklund (Bay of Plenty), Josh Fusitu’a (Auckland), Alex Hodgman (Auckland), Akira Ioane (Auckland), Nepo Laulala (Counties Manukau), James Lay (Auckland), Dalton Papalii (Counties Manukau), Taine Plumtree (Wellington), Marcel Renata (Auckland), Ricky Riccitelli (Taranaki), Tom Robinson (Northland), Rob Rush (Northland), Anton Segner (Tasman), Hoskins Sotutu (Counties Manukau), Cameron Suafoa (North Harbour), James Tucker (Waikato), Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland), Ofa Tuungafasi (Northland), Soane Vikena (Auckland).
Backs: Beauden Barrett (Taranaki), Finlay Christie (Tasman), Caleb Clarke (Auckland), Corey Evans (Auckland), Taufa Funaki (Auckland), Bryce Heem (Auckland), Rieko Ioane (Auckland), AJ Lam (Auckland), Sam Nock (Northland), Stephen Perofeta (Taranaki), Harry Plummer (Auckland), Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (Taranaki), Zarn Sullivan (Auckland), Caleb Tangitau (Auckland), Mark Telea (North Harbour), Tanielu Tele’a (Auckland), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Auckland)