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Bunnings NPC 2023 season preview

Get ready for an action-packed season of New Zealand provincial rugby when the 2023 Bunnings NPC kicks off.

Catch up on all the squad lists and team news below.


2022 Standing: Semi-finalists.

Brief: Auckland crashed out of the semi-finals last year when Wellington put on a record 54-19 score.

Auckland has a settled lineup with experienced international campaigners including Angus Ta’avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Akira Ioane, Rieko Ioane, Caleb Clarke, and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck alongside Harry Plummer and Salesi Rayasi who are both on track to play their 50th matches this season.

The lineup includes nine potential debutants highlighted by All Blacks Sevens World Series winners, Che Clark, Caleb Tangitau, and Payton Spencer.

It would seem Clarke and Rieko Ioane will be regulars with the All Blacks which means seasoned Super Rugby players like Zarn Sullivan, Bryce Heem, and Marcel Renata will be expected to step up.

Flanker Adrian Choat (32 matches) is an underrated performer. Openside Blake Gibson (51 games) and two metre lock Hamish Dalzell will be key figures in the forwards.

Former Auckland NPC half-back Jono Hickey has been appointed attack coach, former Manu Samoa front-rower Census Johnston will lead the scrum, and former All Blacks and No.8 Steven Bates will continue in his role as forwards coach. Craig McGrath is the head coach.

Auckland has won the NPC 17 times. Their most recent success was in 2018.

Squad: Sione Ahio, Edward Annandale, Leni Apisai, Joshua Beehre, Adrian Choat, Che Clark, Caleb Clarke, Joel Cobb, Pele Cowley, Hamish Dalzell, Vaiolini Ekusai, Corey Evans, Taufa Funaki, Joshua Fusitua, Blake Gibson, Bryce Heem, Alex Hodgman, Akira Ioane, Rieko Ioane, Niko Jones, AJ Lam, James Lay, Jock McKenzie, Terrell Peita, Harry Plummer, Salesi Rayasi, Marcel Renata, Joe Royal, Payton Spencer, Zarn Sullivan, Angus Ta’avao, Caleb Tangitau, Tanielu Tele’a, Kalani Thomas, Patrick Tuipulotu, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Leka Tu’ungafasi, Soane Vikena

Bay of Plenty

2022 Standing: Semi-finalists.

Brief: Bay of Plenty eliminated defending champions Waikato in the quarter-finals last year and were fiercely competitive in the semi against Canterbury in Christchurch.

A settled squad featuring a sturdy pack and fast nimble backs should push hard to replicate similar competitiveness.

Chiefs loosehead Aidan Ross (53 games) and the timeless John Afoa (36 Tests) will likely anchor the scrum. Jeff Thwaites (67 games) is another solid option. Māori All Blacks hooker Kurt Eklund (32 games) is a fine captain.

The middle and back row will have height and athleticism with Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Justin Sangster, and Nikola Broughton all regulars in Super Rugby. Ah Kuoi scored seven tries in 11 games in 2022.

Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and Kaleb Trask are an effective and lively pair at halfback and first-five respectively. Trask missed Super Rugby for a sabbatical in Japan.

Mount Maunganui is the home base of the All Blacks Sevens and the Steamers benefit from the inclusion of Leroy Carter, Roderick Solo, and Ngarohi McGarvey-Black.

Finishing won’t be an issue if the wings get a decent supply of ball. Veveni Lasaqa is quality and Emoni Narawa might feature if he isn’t with the All Blacks.

Bay of Plenty won the first NPC title in 1976.

Squad: John Afoa, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Tamiro Armstrong, Seamus Bardoul, Josh Bartlett, Nikora Broughton, Sam Cane, Leroy Carter, Lucas Cashmore, Kurt Eklund, Penitoa Finau, Fehi Fineanganofo, Cole Forbes, Wharenui Hawera, Alex Johnston, Richard Judd, Taine Kolose, Benet Kumeroa, Lalomilo Lalomilio, Veveni Lasaqa, Ngarohi McGarvey-Black, Melani Nanai, Emoni Narawa, Semesi Paea, Carlos Price, Aidan Ross, Funahashi Ryosuke, Justin Sangster, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Roderick Solo, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Sekuini Tanimo, Jeff Thwaites, Pasilio Tosi, Kaleb Trask, Codemeru Vai, Nathan Vella, Etonia Waqa


2022 Standing: Runners-up

Brief: There are 22 Super Rugby-winning Crusaders in a stacked Canterbury roster. Though All Blacks like Sam Whitelock and Codie Taylor are unlikely to feature due to international commmitments, former All Blacks Luke Romano and Ryan Crotty provide significant backbone.

It’s hard to single out weaknesses but rather more straightforward to illustrate areas of power.

In the tight five Joe Moody, Fletcher Newell, Zach Gallagher, and Sam Darry are all due to return from injury. Moody and Newell are especially desperate for minutes to push for a Rugby World Cup spot.

If the above isn’t available Canterbury can still summon the likes of Oliver Jager, Ben Funnell, Brodie McAlister, George Bell, Finlay Brewis, Daniel Lienert- Brown, Jamie Hannah, and Romano to gain the ascendancy up front.

Dominic Gardiner, Cullen Grace, Billy Harmon, Tom Christie, Reed Prinsep, and Corey Kellow are all classy, Super Rugby standard loose forwards who provide selectors with an embarrassment of riches.

The backline looks highly efficient with international halfbacks Willi Heinz and Mitchell Drummond likely to partner Fergus Burke (38 games, 300 points) or Alex Harford who’s capable of real flashes of brilliance.

Crotty and Solomon Alaimalo make a welcome return to a backline where others to watch include Rameka Poihipi and Manasa Mataele.

Canterbury has won the NPC 14 times with their most recent success in 2017.

Squad: Solomon Alaimalo, Torian Barnes, George Bell, Finlay Brewis, Joe Brial, Fergus Burke, Tahlor Cahill, Seb Calder, Ryan Crotty, Tom Christie, Samuel Darry, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Dunshea, Braydon Ennor, Chay Fihaki, Ben Funnell, Zach Gallagher, Dominic Gardiner, Cullen Grace, Alex Harford, Billy Harmon, Jamie Hannah, Willi Heinz, Tom Heywood, Oliver Jager, Corey Kellow, Daniel Lienert- Brown, Manasa Mataele, Brodie McAlister, Dallas McLeod, Richie Mo’unga, Joe Moody, James Mullan, Blair Murray, Fletcher Newell, Rameka Poihipi, Reed Prinsep, Ngatungane Punivai, Luke Romano, Jone Rova, Nic Shearer, Codie Taylor, Samuel Whitelock, Tamaiti Williams

Counties Manukau

2022 Standing: Sixth in Evens Conference

Brief: Though Counties feature 18 players with Super Rugby experience, including former All Blacks No.8 Hoskins Sotutu, All Blacks Sevens rep Sione Molia and experienced campaigners like Jimmy Tupou, Viliami Taulani, and Etene Nanai-Seturo, coach Reon Graham has 14 debutants in his squad, most of whom are locals.

Props Sailesi Tuifua (Karaka) and Keran van Staden (Pukekohe), hookers Ian West-Stevens (Pukekohe) and Palu Ale (Patumahoe), loose forward Leo Ngatai-Tafau (Pukekohe), halfbacks Cohen Brady-Leathem (Patumahoe) and Kanavale Helu (Pukekohe), first-five Jamie King (Pukekohe), midfielder Alex Eruera (Patumahoe), wingers Joshua Gray (Patumahoe), Blake Makiri (Manurewa) and Solomone Naiduki (Manurewa) and first-five/fullback Josh Penney (Karaka) have all been picked to potentially play first-class rugby for the first time.

Halfback Cam Roigard will be missed if he stays with the All Blacks. First-Five Riley Hohepa emerged as a fine leader last year and contributed 99 points,

The Steelers play a vibrant and physical style of footy. In 2022 they only won three games but lost four times by less than a converted try. Defence was an issue conceding 47 tries in 10 games.

Counties won the NPC in 1979 and made the final in 1996 and 1997.

Squad: AJ Alatimu, Palu Ale, Suetena Asomua, Cohen Brady-Leathem, Adam Brash, Liam Daniela, Alex Eruera, Lionel Evans, Esau Filimoehala, Nikolai Foliaki, William Furniss, Joshua Gray, Kanavale Helu, Riley Hohepa, Kauvaka Kaivelata, Jamie King, Jadin Kingi, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Blake Makiri, Peniasi Malimali, Thor Manase, Alex McRobbie, Ioane Moananu, Sione Molia, Alamanda Motuga, Solomone Naiduki, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Leo Ngatai-Tafau, Tevita Ofa, Dalton Papali’i, Josh Penney, Toni Pulu, Sean Reidy, Cam Roigard, Samuel Slade, Nua Soti, Hoskins Sotutu, Ryan Stewart, Viliami Taulani, James Thompson, Zuriel Togiatama, Rodney Tongotea, Ahsee Tuala, Sam Tuifua, Larenz Tupaea-Thomsen, Jimmy Tupou, Maama Vaipulu, Keran van Staden, Ian West-Stevens

Hawke’s Bay

2022 Standing: Quarter-finalists.

Brief: Two narrow defeats to eventual champions Wellington saw Hawke’s Bay surrender the Ranfurly Shield after 14 defences and bow out at the quarter-final stage.

A 28-32 defeat to runners-up Canterbury further hinted at how close the Magpies were to elitism in 2022.

Hawke’s Bay looks likely to contend again. The front row will be headlined by Māori All Blacks Pouri Rakete-Stones (63 games) and hooker Tyrone Thompson. Thompson scored seven tries in 2022, mostly from a damaging rolling maul. Jacob Devery and Kianu Kereru-Symes are Super Rugby quality reinforcements.

The middle and back row is where Hawke’s Bay has real strength. Veteran Tom Parsons (56 games) returns from a lengthy spell aboard while Isaia Walker-Leawere (33 games), Devan Flanders (53 games), and Marino Mikaele-Tu’u (54 games) offer versatility and dynamism.

Halfback Brad Weber and Folau Fakatava are both fighting to reclaim their All Blacks places. Outside them, an abundance of talent exists. Lincoln McClutchie (51 games, 329 points) is a quality ten. Chase Tiatia is a former Duane Monkley Medal winner. Jonah Lowe has scored 24 tries in 63 appearances and Harry Godfrey is a rapidly rising utility from the New Zealand Under 20’s.

Squad: Tom AllenJoe Apikotoa, Paula Balekana, Jacob Devery, Tiaki Fabish, Folau Fakatava, Tim Farrell, Cooper Flanders, Devan Flanders, Neria Fomai, Josh Gimblett, Harry Godfrey, Nick Grigg, Kienan Higgins, Joel Hintz, Josh Kaifa, Kianu Kereru-Symes, Frank Lochore, Jonah Lowe, Caleb Makene, Lincoln McClutchie, Connor McLeod, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Hunter Morrison, Tom Parsons, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Brodie Retallick, Isaac Salmon, Ollie Sapsford, Sam Smith, Tyrone Thompson, Chase Tiatia, Patrick Tuifua, Isi Tu’ungasasi, Anzelo Tuitavaki, Lolagi Visinia, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Brad Weber, Sam Wye


2022 Standing: Seventh in Evens Conference

Brief: Manawatū failed to win a single game for the first time since 1919 last year so 2023 represents a clean slate.

There’s no question the Turbos will be led supremely well by Brayden Iose (33 games). The No.8 is a real talisman and showed some outstanding form for the Hurricanes.

In fact, Manawatū has depth in the loose forward department with Māori All Black TK Howden featuring alongside Slade McDowell who suffered an injury-ravaged 2022, while academy graduate Elyjah Crosswell and the dependable Johnny Galloway will also battle for the starting jerseys.

There are 20 returning players in total. At prop, Joe Gavigan and Flynn Yates return for their third seasons with veteran Sean Paranihi. They are joined by New Zealand Under 20s prop Malakai Hala-Ngatai, Freyberg duo Darius Mafile’o and Feleti Sae-Ta’ufo’ou, and Canadian Cole Keith.

Josh Taula scored a try on his debut at lock last season, and he is expected to see plenty of game time this year while competing with Kia Toa’s Ofa Tauatevalu and recruits Stan van den Hoven and Johan Momsen.

Luke Campbell is back for a second campaign at halfback along with New Zealand Under 20s halfback Jordi Viljoen and Irish No 9 John Poland.

Brett Cameron is a steady hand at first five while Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula played for Fiji at the Under 20s World Cup and is a nephew of Richie Mo’unga.

In the midfield, the ever-reliable Jason Emery (75 games) will be joined by Rookie of the Year Kegan Christian-Goss and powerhouse Tima Fainga’anuku, who is back for his third season.

Headlining the academy graduates are New Zealand Under 20s hookers Vernon Bason and Raymond Tuputupu.

Nehe Milner-Skudder, a 2015 World Cup winning All Black is a player and coach.

Manawatū won the NPC in 1980.

Squad: Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula, Vernon Bason, Kyle Brown, Brett Cameron, Luke Campbell, Chris Cairns, Kegan Christian-Goss, Elyjah Crosswell, Jason Emery, Lotima Fainga’anuku, Taniela Filimone, Johnny Galloway, Joe Gavigan, Julian Goerke, Malakai Hala-Ngatai, Brayden Iose, Te Kamaka Howden, Cole Keith, Tyler Laubscher, Darius Mafile’o, Slade McDowall, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Johan Momsen,  Epeli Waqa Nalaga, Sean Paranihi, John Poland, Leif Schwenke, Aaron Smith, Ofa Tauatevalu, Feleti Sae-Ta’ufo’au Te Rangatira Waitokia, Josh Taula, Micaiah Torrance-Reid, Raymond Tuputupu, Pena Va’a, Stan Van Den Hoven, Jordi Viljeon, Beauden Waaka, Drew Wild, Flynn Yates

North Harbour

2022 Standing: Quarter-finalists.

Brief: North Harbour lost a heartbreaking quarter-final to Auckland last year. At their best, they were irresistible scoring 19 tries in two games against Manawatū and Southland, but consistency was an issue.

The front row will be strong with Sione Mafile’o, Tevita Mafile’o, and Shilo Klein all Super Rugby players to be summoned.

A highlight for North Harbour last year was the strength of their back row with Tamarau McGahan and Cameron Suafoa both outstanding. Wallace Sititi was another who took his chances.

Bryn Gatland scored 139 points in 2022 and was possibly the best performed ten of the NPC, forming a strong partnership with Jamie Booth.

How much of Sean Stevenson (53 games) and Mark Telea (34 games) will be seen is uncertain. Their potential removal will hurt North Harbour.

North Harbour made the final of the NPC in 1994.

Squad: Kade Banks, Tom Barham, Jamie Booth, Sam Davies, James Fiebig, Ed Fidow, Bryn Gatland, Bryn Gordon, Benjamin Grant, Aisea Halo, Jack Heighton, Mateaki Inisi, Shilo Klein, Oscar Koller, Tevita Langi, Alapati Leiua, Tika Lelenga, Moses Leo, Sione Mafile’o, Tevita Mafile’o, Nicholas Mayhew, Tamarau McGahan, Jed Melvin, Danyon Morgan-Puterangi, Mahonri Ngakuru, Siaosi Nginingini, Karl Ruzich, Shaun Stevenson, Wallace Sititi, Cameron Suafoa, Mark Telea


2022 Standing: Quarter-finalists.

Brief: Northland improved by five victories in 2022 and has retained the spine of the roster that achieved that impressive feat. Their heart was omnipresent in the upsets of Wellington (15-6), Auckland (23-22), and Bay of Plenty (23-21).

Northland’s pack will be dogged and experienced with Matt Moulds (61 games), Robb Cobb, and Jarred Adams likely to anchor the scrum. The loss of veteran Ross Wright (123 games) will be keenly felt.

In the middle row Sam Caird and Liam Hallam-Eames each stand two metres tall while Sam McNamara (41 games), Matt Matich (54 games), and Rob Rush are a no-nonsense loose forward trio.

With 74 games Sam Nock brings a wealth of experience at halfback while the experienced Dan Hawkins (71 games, 430 points) will joust with big improver Rivez Reihana for the ten jersey.

It’s likely Jack Goodhue will see a lot of action which will enhance the Northland back line tremendously. Fullback Josh Moorby was the 2022 Taniwha Player of the Year.

Northland doesn’t have the depth of other Unions but will have others wary after their best season in many years in 2022.

Squad: Jarred Adams, Chris Apoua, Tama Anderson, Sam Caird, Robb Cobb, Allan Craig, Esile Fono, Jack Goodhue, Liam Hallam-Eames, Trent Hape, Dan Hawkins, Bruce Kauika-Petersen, Pisi Leilua, Remsy Lemiso, Matt Matich, Jonah Mau’u, Sam McNamara, Lisati Milo-Harris, Josh Moorby, Matt Moulds, Heremaia Murray, Sam Nock, Jordan Olsen, Rene Ranger, Wilton Rebolo, Rivez Reihana, Brady Rush, Rob Rush, Sean Sweetman, Jordan Trainor, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Tamati Tua, Saimoni Uluinakauvadra, Rory Woods


2022 Standing: Fifth in Odds Conference

Brief: Four of Otago’s five defeats in 2022 were by a converted try or less. While their strongest starting XV appears very solid there might be a question mark about depth and a commanding nine/ten combination.

Jermaine Ainsley, a three-test Wallaby, will anchor the scrum. The tighthead was outstanding for the often underwhelming Highlanders.

The second row won’t lack height with locks Fabian Holland and Will Tucker both more than two metres tall and Josh Dickson a Māori All Black.

The back row offers plenty with Christian Lio-Willie exceptional for the Crusaders and James Lentjes (62 games) a proven performer.

James Arscott and Cameron Millar are a likely halfback/first-five combo. The loss of Josh Ioane is considerable.

Interestingly Jack Leslie is the son of former Scottish captain and Otago second-five John Leslie whose coaching Northland. Jack made his Otago debut from the National U85kg champions Southern Bush Pigs.

Out wide excitement is guaranteed with standout Highlanders Thomas Umaga-Jensen and Sam Gilbert able to cover multiple places. Jona Nareki (44 games, 27 tries) thrived on the All Blacks XV tour of Japan. Popular All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo is back after winning a Major League Rugby title with New York in 2022. He has scored 92 first-class tries.

There are 21 Super Rugby players in the squad and 18 from Otago High Schools. George Bower, James Lentjes, and Josh Timu are all injured.

Otago won the NPC in 1991 and 1998.

Squad: Jeremiah Asi, Jermaine Ainsley, James Arscott, Henry Bell, George Bower, Josh Dickson, Ajay Faleafaga, Sam Fischli, Sam Gilbert, Nathan Hastie, Joshua Hill, Oliver Haig, Fabian Holland, Finn Hurley, Ricky Jackson, Jack Leslie, Tau Kolomatangi, Christian Lio-Willie, James Lentjes, Saula Ma’u, Kieran McClea, Cameron Millar, Waisake Naholo, Jona Nareki, Abraham Pole, Brady Roberston, Will Stodart, Harry Taylor, Jake Te Hiwi, Josh Timu, Will Tucker, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Rohan Wingham, Sean Withy


2022 Standing: Seventh in Odds Conference

Brief: Southland lost their first three games by less than a converted try last season and then unfortunately the losses became greater as 38 players were employed.

There are 13 debutants in the Stags in 2023 headlined by South African loose forward Dylan Nel, who played for Otago and Canterbury, and Dan Hollinshead, a first five who has played in the USA, France, and Bay of Plenty.

Key players in the Southland forwards will be Joe Walsh (60 games) and inspirational lock Joshua Bekhuis who played 790 minutes last season and has 125 appearances for the province. Hayden Michaels, a New Zealand Under 20’s openside from 2022, is maturing swiftly.

The timeless Marty Banks has over 1000 first-class games and is always a popular drawcard at Rugby Park. Scott Gregory, Matt Whaanga, and speedy winger Michael Manson are the picks of a young backline.

Squad: Jonah Aoina, Shunsuke Asaoka, Marty Banks, Joshua Bekhuis, Jacob Coghlan, Ethan De Groot, Danny Drake, Greg Dyer, Leroy Ferguson, Viliami Fine, Noah Foster, Scott Gregory, Gabriel Hamer-Webb, Quinn Harrison-Jones, Dan Hollinshead, Liam Howley, Grayson Knapp, Paula Latu, Tevita Latu, Michael Manson, Rintaro Mariyama, Michael McKee, Hayden Michaels, Morgan Mitchell, Dylan Nel, Jacob Payne, Jay Renton, Blair Ryall, Shneil Singh, Shaun Stodart, Jack Taylor, Rory van Vugt, Jahvis Wallace, Joseph Walsh, Matt Whaanga


2022 Standing: Sixth in Evens Conference

Brief: After being undefeated in 10 matches in 2021, Taranaki had a disappointing season last year winning just three games.

On paper at least Taranaki should be much better and hinted at their true potential with a 49-22 thrashing of Wellington in a pre-season fixture on Saturday.

Taranaki is always determined up front and in Jared Proffit (62 games), Ricky Riccitelli (57 games), Reuben O’Neill, and Bradley Slater they have an abundance of quality tight forwards to choose from.

Tom Florence (41 games) has been a lion-hearted performer for some time while it’s touch and go as to if Josh Lord makes the World Cup squad. If he doesn’t Taranaki has more than two metres of timber to call upon in the lineout.

The popular Pita ‘Gus’ Sowakula (46 games) plays his final season and will offer plenty of power with the ball in hand.

Stephen Perofeta (54 games, 287 points) will thrive on the chance to run a backline. At the Blues, he struggled for game time behind Beauden Barrett.

Taranaki isn’t the strongest in midfield but Teihorangi Walden and Daniel Rona, who had some impressive moments with the Chiefs in Super Rugby, are a likely starting pair.

Kini Naholo scored nine tries for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby and Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens is capable of electrifying moments.

Taranaki won their only NPC title in 2014. It would be a major letdown if they don’t improve on their efforts in 2022.

Squad: Jordie Barrett, Beauden Barrett, Scott Barrett, Michael Bent, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Liam Blyde, Kaylum Boshier, Donald Brighouse, Logan Crowley, Hemopo Cunningham, Tom Florence, Meihana Grindlay, Pita Gus Sowakula, Josh Jacomb, Scott Jury, Adam Lennox, Michael Loft, Josh Lord, Matty McKenzie, Kini Naholo, Brayton Northcott-Hill, Reuben O’Neill, Jesse Parete, Jared Proffit, Willem Ratu, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Ricky Riccitelli, Daniel Rona, Fiti Sa, Millennium Sanerivi, Bradley Slater, Kyle Stewart, Vereniki Tikoisolomone, Teihorangi Walden, Tupou Vaai, Ailepeta Junior (AJ) Lemalu


2022 Standing: Fifth in Evens Conference

Brief: Tasman missed the top four for the first time in a decade last year following two consecutive Premiership triumphs.

In many respects, Tasman are victims of their own success. It’s unlikely All Blacks Tyrell Lomax, Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Leicester Fainga’anuku, and Finlay Christie will feature but Ethan Blackadder and David Havili will look to make a late bid for World Cup selection.

A crippling injury toll and five defeats by eight points or less told the story of Tasman in 2022. If the Mako can stay healthy they should threaten the semis.

Hooker Quentin MacDonald (108 games), former All Blacks prop Atu Moli, young Highlander Luca Inch, and locks Pari Pari Parkinson (2.04m) and Quinten Strange (58 games) provide strength and stability up front with Kershawl Sykes-Martin, a flourisher late season with the Crusaders in Super Rugby, another option. Max Hicks can cover lock of flanker.

Hugh Renton (26 games) and Anton Segner are proven Super Rugby starters in the back row. Renton will be relied upon for ‘go forward’ and Segner for his turnover prowess at the ruck. Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta brings plenty of athleticism and size.

Noah Hotham and Louie Chapman will compete vigorously for the halfback positions. The possible selection of Willie Havili for Samoa at the World Cup leaves Mitch Hunt primed to assume a leading role at ten.

The leadership and nous of Alex Nankivell (70 games) will be essential in midfield while Timoci Tavatavanawai and Macca Springer are two of the most exciting wings in the competition. Springer scored eight tries last season and five at the World Under 20 championships.

Squad: Tomasi Alosio, Levi Aumua, Ethan Blackadder, Louie Chapman, Finaly Christie, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Ryan Coxon, Miracle Fai’ilagi, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Shannon Frizell, Matt Graham-Williams, Will Gualter, David Havili, William Havili, Max Hicks, Noah Hotham, Mitchell Hunt, Luca Inch, Will Jordan, Feleti Kaitu’u, Tyrel Lomax, Quentin MacDonald, Tom Marshall, Sam Matenga, Sam Moli, Monu Moli, Atu Moli, Alex Nankivell, Tim O’Malley, Pari Pari Parkinson, Hugh Renton, Taine Robinson, Anton Segner, Antonio Shalfoon, Macca Springer, Quinten Strange, Kershawl Sykes-Martin, Timoci Tavatavanawai,

Unavailable due to injury: Fletcher Anderson, Netani Baleisomosomo, Viliami Napa’a, Cambell Parata, Braden Stewart, Sevu Reece


2022 Standing: Quarter-finalists

Brief: Waikato won the NPC in 2021 and was top of the table two-thirds of the way through 2022 before fading. Waikato will be keen to reverse that under the experienced leadership of prop Ayden Johnstone and flanker Mitch Jacobson who share 112 provincial caps combined.

Waikato will have plenty of steel up front with Chiefs props George Dyer (22 games) and Ollie Norris (40 games) at their disposal as well as cunning locks James Tucker (59 games), and Laghlan McWhannell (30 games). Solomone Tukuafu and Rhys Marshall have plenty to offer.

Samipeni Finau has seen limited minutes with the All Blacks and will be keen for some minutes to make a final World Cup push while Simon Parker and Patrick McCurran back from Japan are solid operators.

Halfback Xavier Roe looks set to return from a long injury spell while Cortez Ratima will look to build upon an outstanding Super Rugby season with the Chiefs.

All Blacks Josh Ioane and Damian McKenzie could run the backline from ten but if both are unavailable New Zealand Under 20’s first-five Taha Kemara is an attractive option. D’Angelo Leuila can cover first five as well but the Samoan international is more likely to feature in midfield beside Baylin Sullivan (55 games). Daniel Sinkinson scored seven tries on the wing last year with Gideon Wrampling and Liam Coombes-Fabling are good young finishers. Waikato’s head coach is former All Blacks lock and loose forward Ross Filipo.

Waikato were winners of the NPC in 1992, 2006, and 2021.

Squad: Pita Anae-Ah Sue, Hamilton Burr, Tepaea Cook-Savage, Liam Coombes-Fabling, Mosese Dawai, George Dyer, Samipeni Finau, Josh Ioane, Mitch Jacobson, Luke Jacobson, Ayden Johnstone, Taha Kemara, Anton Leinert-Brown, D’Angelo Leuila, Rhys Marshall, Patrick McCurran, Damian McKenzie, Laghlan McWhannell, Cody Nordstrom, Ollie Norris, Simon Parker, Cortez Ratima, Gabe Robinson, Xavier Roe, Daniel Sinkinson, Bailyn Sullivan, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Te Rama Reuben, James Tucker, Solomone Tukuafu, Mason Tupaea, Quinn Tupaea, Gideon Wrampling


2022 Standing: Champions

Brief: For the first time since 1982 Wellington will start the season as both defending champions and Ranfurly Shield holders.

The Lions have won 12 matches in a row, their record is 18 between 1986 and 1987.

Former All Blacks midfielder Tamati Ellison replaces Leo Crowley as head coach. Ellison has enjoyed three seasons assisting Super Rugby Champions the Crusaders.

With 21 Super Rugby players and the vast majority of the 2022 roster back, the Lions are well poised for a serious defence of their title.

Perhaps the only vulnerable areas are propping and a settled authoritative nine/ten combination.

All Blacks XV loosehead Xavier Numia will be a key figure and expect PJ Sheck (17 games) who trained with the Highlanders to get more game time.

Bradley Crichton and Siale Lauaki are New Zealand Under 20 reps maturing while Cameron Orr from the Melbourne Rebels (39 matches) has been recruited to add strength and experience.

There remains doubt as to when TJ Perenara (80 Tests) will return from injury. That opens the door for returning halfback Kemara Hauiti-Parapara and rookie Sam Howling from Poneke.

Jackson Garden-Bachop (89 matches, 706 points) has departed for Japan so Aidan Morgan and Ruben Love will jostle for the ten jersey.

Dominic Bird transformed the Wellington pack last year with his height and aggression. Watch for a motivated Asafo Aumua to push hard for a World Cup place. Caleb Delany and Billy Proctor have enjoyed career-best form the past year. Local hero Brad Shields has also returned from a four-year stint in the UK and will be welcomed back with open arms by the Wellington faithful.

Du’ Plessis Kirifi has captained Wellington 36 times in 53 appearances and will resume skipper duties again.

Wellington was NPC winners in 1978, 1981, 1986, 2000, and 2022.

Squad: Ha’amea Ahio, Asafo Aumua, Dominic Bird, Sam Clarke, Tjay Clarke, Dane Coles, Bradley Crichton, Caleb Delany, Chicago Doyle, Joe Faleafaga, Losi Filipo, Connor Garden-Bachop, Sione Halalilo, Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, Riley Higgins, Sam Howling, Akria Ieremia, Du’ Plessis Kirifi, Peter Lakai, Siale Lauaki, Ruben Love, Aidan Morgan, Xavier Numia, James O’Reilly, Cameron Orr, Pepesana Patafilo, TJ Perenara, Hugo Plummer, Billy Procter, Domonic Ropeti, Isi Saumaki, Ardie Savea, Julian Savea, PJ Sheck, Brad Shields, Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe,  Peter Umaga-Jensen, Ethan Webster-Nonu, Keelan Whitman

 Note: Squads are subject to change. Correct at the time of publication.

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