New Zealand's five franchises have named their squads for the 2015 Super Rugby tournament.
Jerome Kaino will captain the Blues next year. New players include former All Blacks halfback Jimmy Cowan, who is back in New Zealand after three years in the English Premiership, lock Josh Bekhuis, who has earned 81 Super Rugby caps for the Highlanders over six seasons, Manawatu inside centre Hamish Northcott, and former Crusaders and Highlanders utility back Dan Bowden, who returns after stints in England and Japan.
Blues – Josh Bekhuis, Luke Braid, Joe Edwards, Charlie Faumuina, Blake Gibson, Jerome Kaino, Will Lloyd, Steven Luatua, Keven Mealamu, Matt Moulds, Brendon O'Connor, James Parsons, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Sam Prattley, Culum Retallick, Peter Saili, Angus Ta'avao, Hayden Triggs, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Tony Woodcock, Pita Ahki, Dan Bowden, Jimmy Cowan, Jamison Gibson-Park, Frank Halai, Bryn Hall, Simon Hickey, Ben Lam, Tevita Li, George Moala, Melani Nanai, Hamish Northcott, Charles Piutau, Francis Saili, Matt Vaega, Lolagi Visinia, Ihia West.
There are six newcomers in the Crusaders squad, including centre Robbie Fruean, who returns to Christchurch after playing for the Chiefs this year, Northland winger Jone Macilai, hooker Ged Robinson and lock Scott Barrett. Centre Kieron Fonotia and outside back Nafi Tuitavake have stepped up to the full squad from this year’s wider training group.
Crusaders – Wyatt Crockett, Joe Moody, Tim Perry, Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala, Ben Funnell, Codie Taylor, Ged Robinson, Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Jimmy Tupou, Scott Barrett, Luke Whitelock, Richie McCaw, Matt Todd, Kieran Read, Jordan Taufua, Alex Hodgman, Tom Sanders, Jed Brown, Andy Ellis, Willi Heinz, Mitchell Drummond, Daniel Carter, Colin Slade, Tom Taylor, Kieran Fonotia, Ryan Crotty, Robbie Fruean, Nemani Nadolo, Jone Macilai, Johnny McNicholl, Nafi Tuitavake, Israel Dagg, Richie Mo’unga, David Havili, Nathaniel Apa,
Hosea Gear will play for the Chiefs in 2015 after stints in France and Japan, along with Sonny Bill Williams, who recently returned to rugby union after spending two years with the Sydney Roosters in the NRL. Ten of the Chiefs squad played in the NPC final that was won by Taranaki, one of the six provincial unions that make up the franchise.
Chiefs – Ben Afeaki, Michael Allardice, Johan Bardoul, Sam Cane, Aaron Cruden, Mike Fitzgerald, Leon Fukofuka, Hosea Gear, Mitchell Graham, Nathan Harris, Bryce Heem, Andrew Horrell, Tevita Koloamatangi, Michael Leitch, Anton Lienert-Brown, James Lowe, Pauliasi Manu, Tom Marshall, Rhys Marshall, Damian McKenzie, Quentin MacDonald, Jamie MackIntosh, Marty McKenzie, Liam Messam, Charlie Ngatai, Sean Polwart, Brodie Retallick, Augustine Pulu, Toni Pulu, Liam Squire, Matt Symons, Seta Tamanivalu, Ben Tameifuna, Siate Tokolahi, Maama Vaipulu, Brad Weber, Sonny Bill Williams, Tim Nanai-Williams.
The Highlanders have added 10 new players to their Super Rugby squad including talented back Marty Banks and South African prop Ross Geldenhuys. Other newcomers are props Pingi Tala’apitaga, Josh Hohneck and Brendon Edmonds, hooker Ash Dixon, locks Alex Ainley and Mark Reddish, loose forward Dan Pryor and winger Waisake Naholo.
Highlanders – Kane Hames, Pingi Tala’apitaga, Ma’afu Fia, Ross Geldenhuys, Josh Hohneck, Brendon Edmonds, Liam Coltman, Ash Dixon, Tom Franklin, Joe Wheeler, Alex Ainley, Mark Reddish, Dan Pryor, Gareth Evans, John Hardie, Shane Christie, Nasi Manu, Elliot Dixon, Aaron Smith, Fumiaki Tanaka, Marty Banks, Lima Sopoaga, Hayden Parker, Trent Renata, Shaun Treeby, Jason Emery, Malakai Fekitoa, Richard Buckman, Waisake Naholo, Patrick Osborne, Ben Smith, Kurt Baker.
The Hurricanes midfield has been boosted by the return of Ma'a Nonu and Reynold Lee-Lo. Newcomers include centre Willis Halaholo, utility back Vince Aso, locks Christian Lloyd and Geoffrey Cridge, flanker Iopu Iopu-Aso and former Rebels fullback Jason Woodward.
Hurricanes – Ben Franks, Mark Abbott, Geoffrey Cridge, Dane Coles, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Jeremy Thrush, Brad Shields, Ardie Savea, Victor Vito, TJ Perenara, Julian Savea, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Cory Jane, Jason Woodward, Reggie Goodes, Motu Matu'u, John Schwalger, Christian Lloyd, Matt Proctor, Callum Gibbins, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Chris Eves, James Broadhurst, Beauden Barrett, Iopu Iopu-Aso, Blade Thomson, James Marshall, Chris Smylie, Vince Aso, Reynold Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo.
Photo: Teaukura Moetaua/Getty Images