James Mortimer 09.May.2012Getty Images
Smith has been in stellar form this season, ensuring the World Cup winning Cowan has had to play second fiddle to the Manawatu number nine.
Halfback is one of the richest positions in New Zealand in terms of depth, and Maori representative Smith has already been picked in many armchair selectors test squads – so it will be interesting to see if All Blacks coach Steve Hansen follows suit.
The Otago Daily Times reported that Smith was still to confirm his Investec Super Rugby future with the Highlanders, but with Cowan’s departure confirming Smith’s status as the franchises top halfback, Jamie Joseph and co will be keen to lock in the 23-year-old.
Key back's Ben Smith, Lima Sopoaga and Colin Slade will be in Highlanders colours for the 2013 Investec Super Rugby season, as will forwards Jamie Mackintosh, Jarrad Hoeata and Josh Bekhuis.
All Blacks Adam Thomson, Andrew Hore and Hosea Gear are still to finalise their arrangements for next season.
Much could depend on whether the Highlanders can go a step further than last season, where a stunning first half of their campaign flat-lined out to six losses in their last seven matches to deny them a historic Super Rugby Final’s series appearance.
The Highlanders are currently in the longest drought of any New Zealand franchise in regards to tasting knockout action, with their last appearance in 2002, when they lost the semi-final to eventual champions the Crusaders.