Captain Scott Barrett said a couple of results in tight games had not gone the Highlanders' way this season, and they would be desperate for a win to turn their season around.
"We're giving them all the respect they deserve. You only have to look back to last year to see they tipped us up at home, so we have to front up on Friday night," he said.
The competition was tight. Missing a game meant dropped points, and if losing a game against a New Zealand team, it might be necessary to catch up in Australia. Barrett said the next three games, against the Highlanders, the Hurricanes, and the Blues were critical for the Crusaders' season.
The Crusaders are showing the effects of their campaign. Lock Sam Whitelock is out for four weeks with a broken finger, hooker Brodie McAlister has a calf injury that could take six weeks to recover, while lock Mitchell Dunshea is out for the season with a medial ligament injury.
After losing at home against the Chiefs, then missing a game due to Covid in their camp, the Crusaders were happy going to Hamilton and reversing their loss to the Chiefs at the weekend.
Coach Scott Robertson said Dunshea had been through surgery. They were waiting to hear the surgeon's report.
"It's been a hell of a casualty ward the last few weeks," he said.
As a result, Zach Gallagher will make his debut from the bench, and Tasman lock Antonio Shalfoon has joined the squad as cover.
"The depth of your squad is always tested. This year we've had more debutants than we've had in a number of years, and all of them have stood up," he said.
"That's the exciting thing. We always feel for the players that get injured, and that's part of rugby. But for the next guy to step up like they have, we're excited for Zach."
Robertson said the former Christ's College and Canterbury Schools' captain was over an injury that kept him out of last year's Bunnings' Cup.
Barrett said: "At training, he is certainly up to it physically. He's got some hard shoulders. It will be about finding confidence and time in the saddle for him.
"Being on the other side of the tackling bag, and tackling him, he's a big boy, a heavy boy, loves the physical side. Can't wait to see his involvement," he said.
Crusaders team to face the Highlanders:
1. Joe Moody
2. Codie Taylor (VC)
3. Fletcher Newell
4. Scott Barrett (C)
5. Quinten Strange
6. Ethan Blackadder
7. Tom Christie
8. Cullen Grace
9. Mitch Drummond
10. Richie Mo'unga
11. George Bridge
12. David Havili (VC)
13. Leicester Fainga'anuku
14. Sevu Reece
15. Will Jordan
16. Shilo Klein
17. George Bower
18. Tamaiti Williams
19. Zach Gallagher*
20. Pablo Matera
21. Bryn Hall
22. Fergus Burke
23. Braydon Ennor
*denotes Crusaders debut