Champions in 2015, the Highlanders have unveiled a squad for the 2019 season that could be capable of lifting a second Investec Super Rugby title for the southern club.

Take a look at five players who could play crucial roles in the Highlanders success in 2019.

 Five Players to Watch

Tyrel Lomax 

Tyrel Lomax has made massive strides in the last year.

When first signed by the Highlanders last year, he did not have any background in New Zealand rugby. But the 22-year-old has proved his mettle, firstly in 15 outings for the Highlanders in 2018 and latterly in the Mitre 10 Cup with Tasman.

So well did he play in a powerful Mako tight five that Lomax was fit to rank as the top tighthead prop in the entire competition. His reward? A trip to Tokyo to prepare for the All Blacks Test against Japan. It was a clear indication of the improvements in his game since he left the Canberra Vikings in 2017.

Lomax is the son of former Kiwis league prop Johnny Lomax.

 

Josh Ioane

Statistics will not tell you the full story of the impact Josh Ioane had on his Otago Razorbacks team in the Mitre 10 Cup.

The 23-year-old first five scored 116 points, which was third equal in the competition, and helped guide Otago into the Championship final, not to mention annexing the Ranfurly Shield from Waikato. But the numbers do not tell the tale of Ioane’s growing maturity and his wide skillset.

A product of the Otago academy system after leaving Auckland’s King’s College in 2013, Ioane has grown his game to the extent that he will push hard for the Highlanders No 10 jersey, along with Bryn Gatland and Marty Banks, in 2019. A possible pairing with Aaron Smith is full of potential for the franchise.

Ioane was further rewarded for his stellar form with a call-up to the Maori All Blacks’ tour of the Americas.

 

Pari Pari Parkinson

Pari Pari Parkinson is another young buck who has developed swiftly in 2018.

Quick off the ground and safe in the air, the Mako lock won 51 lineouts during the Mitre 10 Cup, the second most of all players, and formed a tremendous combination with Quinten Strange, who is still with the Crusaders.

Now 22, Parkinson will be first to put his hand up to start for the Highlanders in 2019, having gained a brief taste of Super Rugby in 2018 and experiencing touring life with the Maori All Blacks in the Americas.

After playing for a strong St Kentigern First XV in Auckland, he cracked the NZ Barbarians Schools in 2014 before heading to Tasman.

Born in Whakatane, Parkinson is nephew of former Maori All Black Matua Parkinson.

 

Jackson Hemopo

The 2018 season was moving year for Manawatu’s Jackson Hemopo.

The 24-year-old went from solid provincial grafter and fringe Super Rugby player to a starting Highlanders position and, in June, the sheer delight of a promotion to the All Blacks.

While much of his Highlanders season was played out at lock, his ability to also play on the blindside attracted the attention of the All Blacks selectors, who handed him a debut Test against France in Dunedin before his home Highlanders fans, and then he was again a replacement against the Pumas in Buenos Aires.

Called up for the Japan Test, he was due to link up with the Maori All Backs in South America.

Hemopo mixes a high work-rate with ball-winning ability and a hard-nosed attitude. With 25 caps for the Highlanders, he is now seen as a senior member of the forward pack.

 

Dillon Hunt 

Dillon Hunt is coming off a superb Mitre 10 Cup campaign with North Harbour in which his ability to pilfer possession, make his tackles and carry effectively were to the fore.

His breakthrough year came in 2017 when he played for the Highlanders and Otago, impressing sufficiently to win a place on the All Blacks’ northern tour, debuting off the bench against a French XV in Lyon.

More positive output for the Highlanders followed in 2018. Back in his native North Harbour, he was one of that team’s best and was recalled to the All Blacks for the Japan Test, as well as appearing for the World XV against Japan.

He and James Lentjes will ensure the 2019 Highlanders have plenty of depth in the No 7 jersey.

By Campbell Burnes (originally posted on www.superrugby.co.nz

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