Seven new faces for Crusaders
The Super Rugby Champions mentor Robertson revealed there is a huge mixture of experience and emerging talent among the ranks for the upcoming season.
One of the new faces includes 22-year-old Ethan Blackadder, son of Canterbury and Crusaders stalwart Todd.
He joins dynamic New Zealand under-20 representatives Will Jordan and Braydon Ennor, veteran Mike Delany, Tom Sanders, Billy Harmon and Jack Stratton in the squad.
Another relative veteran, midfielder Tim Bateman, has re-signed for the 2018 season.
"We are fortunate to name a vastly experienced squad for 2018, including 12 All Blacks currently away on the end of year tour, along with Maori All Blacks (Tim Bateman) and Barbarians representatives (George Bridge, Mitchell Drummond, Richie Mo’unga)," Robert said.
"Alongside that experience are some talented young players who have made a huge impact early on in their provincial careers and put their hand up to be selected in this squad for the first time," he added.
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Robertson said it was fantastic to welcome a player of Sanders’s ability back into the Crusaders environment: "Tom has played some outstanding footy for Canterbury during the 2017 National Provincial Cup campaign. He’s a strong and uncompromising defender, who carries the ball well and never stops working. We’re confident he’ll complement our existing loose forwards well in 2018,"
The two new loose forwards joining the squad are Canterbury’s Billy Harmon and Tasman’s Ethan Blackadder.
"Billy was part of the Crusaders Academy and really made his mark during what was his second season in the Mitre 10 Cup this year. It’s been great to see a young player take his opportunities in the No.7 jersey for Canterbury, and he certainly made it his own towards the end of the season. His performances tell us that he is ready to make the step up to Super Rugby and we’re excited to give him that opportunity," Robertson said.
"Ethan has had a fantastic season for Tasman and really matured into his role throughout the campaign. He’s a player who always gets through a power of work and carries the ball well, but what has really impressed the coaching group is Ethan’s character; he is team-focused and genuine which we believe will stand him in good stead for Super Rugby,"
In the backs, Stratton joins the squad in 2018, after Ere Enari was ruled out for the season when he broke his leg in the last round-robin match of the NPC.
"Jack is a great addition to our halfback stocks for 2018. He’s only 23, but already exhibits strong game management and decision-making abilities. Jack is another player who took his opportunities during the NPC and made an impact each time he took the field, so he’ll learn a lot from our experienced halfbacks in Bryn Hall and Mitch Drummond," Robertson said.
Braydon Ennor and Will Jordan both debuted in the NPC this season, for Canterbury and Tasman respectively, and have been named as two new outside backs in the squad.
Robertson said the World Champion New Zealand Under-20 representatives have taken the step up to provincial rugby in their stride: "Braydon and Will have made the transition to NPC look effortless in their debut seasons. Both were one and two on the competition stats for clean breaks and will add some real strike power to our back line options.
"Braydon is quick and powerful on attack but also a solid defender, with the ability to play in the midfield or out wide. He’s proved an exciting player to watch as he’s progressed through the Crusaders Academy, and provides us with plenty of versatility in the back line.
"Will has shown this season he is equally as dangerous on attack, strong with ball in hand and knows his way to the try line. He is another product of the Crusaders Academy and a former Canterbury U19 representative, who has potential in spades," Robertson said.
Mike Delany, who played for the Highlanders and Chiefs between the 2007 and 2012 seasons and earned one test cap for the All Blacks in 2009, also joins the squad – as an option at either first five-eighth or fullback.
"Mike will be another key player in our 2018 squad, as someone who brings fantastic knowledge and experience to our back line. He’s a great leader, controls the game well, and has played in Japan, France and England – so he will be an important voice for us this season," Robertson said.
"I’m really proud of the squad we have announced today and, as a coaching group, we’re looking forward to seeing what we can achieve with this team in the new season. Each of the players we have named brings something different to the mix but I believe the combination of skills we have here is strong and the character of each of these men will add value to the Crusaders in 2018,"
Forwards: Michael Alaalatoa, Scott Barrett , Ethan Blackadder, Wyatt Crockett , Mitchell Dunshea, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Billy Harmon, Oliver Jager, Andrew Makalio, Joe Moody, Tim Perry, Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Pete Samu, Tom Sanders, Quinten Strange, Jordan Taufua, Codie Taylor, Matt Todd, Sam Whitelock.
Backs: Tim Bateman, George Bridge, Ryan Crotty, Israel Dagg, Mike Delany, Mitchell Drummond, Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, Bryn Hall, David Havili, Mitchell Hunt, Will Jordan, Jone Macilai, Manasa Mataele, Richie Mo’unga , Jack Stratton, Seta Tamanivalu.