The Highlanders has the smallest player base of the New Zealand Super 14 franchises, yet they have often overachieved after initial expectations.
In 2008 they really struggled and managed only three wins in the competition, one of them being against the mighty Crusaders.
The side lacks depth and coach Glenn Moore will have no option but to turn to inexperienced players to fill the gaps. Therefore he has relied heavily on the New Zealand draft system for this year’s tournament.
And while the new recruits have some potential there is also some serious doubt as to how they will handle the step up from playing Air New Zealand Cup rugby to being in the Super 14.
Strengths: Their location is one of their few strengths. It’s a long way to travel to the bottom of New Zealand, both Dunedin and Invercargill, where life can be cold. Their unpredictability could also work to their advantage, with very little known about the new faces in the Highlanders’ camp.
Weakness: There is no real depth in this side and Moore has had to practically rebuild the team.
Noteworthy signings: Anthony Perenise (Wellington), Jason Rutledge (new from Southland), Josh Bekhuis (new from Southland), Ross Kennedy (Hurricanes), George Naoupu (Hawke’s Bay), Jason Shoemark (Hawke’s Bay).
Noteworthy losses: Craig Newby (Leicester), James Wilson (Chiefs), Paul Williams (Blues), Ezra Taylor (Reds),
Coach: Glenn Moore takes charge in his second season as Highlanders coach after assistant roles with both the Highlanders and Otago. Moore was responsible for the rapid development of the North Otago provincial team, taking them from the Third Division into the Second Division, where they were semi finalists in his last two years.
Captain: Jamie Mackintosh is the man tasked to skipper the Highlanders. Weighing in at 120kgs the powerhouse prop forms part of a formidable Highlanders front row. He also made his All Blacks debut in 2008.
Player(s) to watch: All Black scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan will have a vital role to play in helping to lead the side. While Ross Kennedy will want re-build his once promising career.
2008 Position: 11th
Best finish: Beaten finalists in 1999
Worst finish: 12th in Super 12 in 1997
Home Venues: Carisbrook, Dunedin (capacity 29,000), Rugby Park, Invercargill (capacity 17,000) and Queenstown (capacity 12,000)
2009 Prediction: The Highlanders looks set to be New Zealand’s weakest Super 14 side in 2009, but they will at least be competitive and expect one or two surprise results. 11th
Highlanders Squad: Jamie Mackintosh, Clint Newland, Chris King, Anthony Perenise, David Hall, Jason Rutledge, Hayden Triggs, Tom Donnelly, Josh Bekhuis, Ross Kennedy, Adam Thomson, Tim Boys, Alando Soakai, Stephen Setephano, George Naoupu, Jimmy Cowan, Sean Romans, Daniel Bowden, Matt Berquist, Jason Shoemark, Jayden Hayward, Johnny Leota, Kendrick Lynn, Brett Mather, Lucky Mulipola, Fetu’u Vainikolo, Ben Smith, Israel Dagg
Friday February: 13 v Brumbies, home
Friday February: 20 v Hurricanes, away
Friday February 27: v Waratahs, away
Saturday 7 March: v Crusaders, home
Saturday 14 March: v Chiefs, home
Saturday 21 March: v Cheetahs, home
Saturday 28 March v Bulls, home
Saturday 11April: v Reds, home
Friday 17 April: v Blues, away
Friday 24 April: v Stormers, home
Saturday 2 May: v Sharks, away
Friday 8 May: v Lions, away
Saturday 16 May: v W. Force, away
Courtesy of Rugby 365Tweet