Waikato have announced a 30-man squad, featuring 10 players in their first season with the province, that will compete in the Mitre 10 Cup.
Among the new faces are four players with plenty of first class experience – Hurricanes centre Willis Halaholo, former North Harbour and Blues Development back-row Jordan Manihera, former Canterbury and Crusaders utility back Nathaniel Apa and Samoa scrum-half Pele Cowley.
Other first year Waikato players are hooker Steven Misa, prop Sefo Kautai, lock/loose forward Leva Fifita, centre Tevita Taufui and wings Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara and Sevu Reece.
Seven of them have made their Waikato debuts during pre-season Ranfurly Shield fixtures with Manihera, Halaholo and Fifita the only three in the squad who remain uncapped.
Waikato will also welcome back their 10 Super Rugby players – Hurricanes Loni Uhila and Halaholo, Chiefs Atu Moli, James Tucker, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Stephen Donald, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown and Shaun Stevenson and Jordan Trainor from the Blues. The availability of Kerr-Barlow and McKenzie will depend on their potential All Blacks commitments.
The return of scrum-half Isaac Boss and fly-half Sam Christie from playing stints in Europe will add experience to the backline, while up front prop Latu Talakai and lock Brian Alainu'uese are both welcome additions after missing the last two seasons.
Waikato head coach Sean Botherway is happy with the squad he has been able to name and the players and coaching staff have been ramping up preparations through an extended Ranfurly Shield pre-season.
"The squad is well balanced and heavier in experience than previous years. Our Super Rugby players have all had very good seasons and we look forward to them returning in the coming weeks," Botherway told Waikato's website.
"Ranfurly Shield rugby has given our early season work plenty of substance and excitement, and we are looking forward to the remainder of our pre-season as we build up to what will be a very competitive Mitre 10 Cup campaign."
Waikato Mitre 10 Cup Squad
Forwards: Loni Uhila, Latu Talakai, Hame Faiva, Steven Misa, Atu Moli, Tau Koloamatangi, Sefo Kautai, James Tucker, Brian Alainu'uese, Jacob Skeen, Leva Fifita, Whetu Douglas, Mitch Jacobson, Adam Burn, Jordan Manihera
Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Harrison Levien, Pele Cowley, Isaac Boss, Damian McKenzie, Stephen Donald, Sam Christie, Willis Halaholo, Tevita Taufui, Nathaniel Apa, Anton Lienert-Brown, Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara, Sevu Reece, Shaun Stevenson, Jordan Trainor