Highlanders hooker Liam Coltman will play his 100th game for the club when he takes the field against the Waratahs in Invercargill on Friday.
Coltman who has only missed one game this year has been in outstanding form all season and was recently voted player of the year at the club’s awards night.
Co-captain Ben Smith’s troublesome hamstring has not recovered sufficiently enough for him to take his place in the matchday 23 despite training with the team this week.
In a statement head coach Aaron Mauger said: “Ben worked extremely hard to be available for his team this week, unfortunately he is still a little short of being match ready.”
Elsewhere, Teihorangi Walden is restored to the midfield and Daniel Lienert-Brown and Elliot Dixon will form part of a six/two forward/back reserve bench for what is shaping as a season defining game for the Highlanders as their top eight aspirations rely on a strong winning performance against the Waratahs.
If they achieve five points from the match, they will have to anxiously await other results throughout the weekend.
Highlanders: 15 Josh McKay, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (c), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Elliot Dixon
Date: Friday, June 14
Venue: Rugby Park, Invercargill
Kick-off: 19:35 local (08:45 BST, 07:35 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), James Munro (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)