Defending champions the Highlanders have announced their squad to contest the 2016 Super Rugby competition.
The 38-man squad has 29 players returning from the 2015 team. Mid-season injury replacements, Daniel Lienert-Brown and James Lentjes return on full contracts.
The loose forward stocks have been bolstered by Liam Squire (Tasman) and Luke Whitelock (Canterbury), after the departures of experienced campaigners, Nasi Manu and John Hardie.
Also joining the forwards is Siosiua Halanukonuka (Tasman), the Tongan-born prop has had a solid season for Tasman and hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate (Auckland) who will add some depth to the front row. Craig Millar (Otago) returns to the squad after a one year hiatus due to injury as well as teammate, lock, Jackson Hemopo, who debuted for the Highlanders in 2015 after coming into the squad as injury cover.
Young and exciting midfielders Rob Thompson (Canterbury) and Matt Faddes (Otago) come into the backs after being stand-outs in their ITM Cup teams and collecting 16 tries between them.
Fly-half Hayden Parker, who had limited game time in 2015 due to a shoulder injury that required surgery will spend the next couple of months in Japan with Panasonic before returning for the start of the 2016 season. Fan-favourite, Fumiaki Tanaka, will return early in the new year for his fourth season with the Highlanders.
Also included in the 38-man squad is 19-year old Patelesio Tomkinson. Tomkinson is an exciting player with a big future who has made his debut for Otago in the ITM cup this year.
HIGHLANDERS 2016 SQUAD:
Alex Ainley, Shane Christie, Liam Coltman, Ash Dixon, Elliot Dixon, Brendon Edmonds, Gareth Evans, Tom Franklin, Ross Geldenhuys, Siosiua Halanukonuka, Jackson Hemopo, Josh Hohneck, Daniel Lienert-Brown, James Lentjes, Craig Millar, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Dan Pryor, Mark Reddish, Liam Squire, Luke Whitelock and Joe Wheeler
Marty Banks, Richard Buckman, Jason Emery, Matt Faddes, Malakai Fekitoa, Waisake Naholo, Patrick Osborne, Hayden Parker, Josh Renton, Ben Smith, Aaron Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Fumiaki Tanaka, Rob Thompson, Patelesio Tomkinson, Ryan Tongia and Teihorangi Walden