Tony Woodcock, Joe Wheeler and Ma'a Nonu will all pull on a Highlanders jersey for the first time in Super Rugby when they take on the Chiefs in Friday's Super Rugby opener.
However, Highlanders coach Jamie Jospeh will be without workhorse lock Brad Thorn after he failed to recover from a calf injury in time for selection.
But the 38-year-old is expected to take the field next week.
All Blacks utility back Ben Smith has recovered from a niggling injury and will take his place at full-back, while Lima Sopoaga starts at fly-half after beating off the challenge of Hayden Parker.
Up front, Southland hooker Brayden Mitchell will fill in for the suspended Andrew Hore who is still serving out a ban for taking out Wales lock Bradley Davies in November last year.
On the bench, Liam Coltman, Fumiaki Tanaka and Hayden Parker will all make their debut if they get a run against the Chiefs. Tanaka will become the first Japanese player to play Super Rugby if he takes the field, after countryman Shota Horie didn't get off the pine for the Rebels last weekend.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Phil Burleigh, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear (c), 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Joe Wheeler, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Elliot Dixon, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Buxton Popoali'i.
Date: Friday, February 22
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19.35 (06.30 GMT)
Referee: Steve Walsh
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser, Kane McBride
TMO: Vinny Munro