Five rookies to watch in 2023

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The Highlanders have recruited six fresh faces while the Chiefs and Blues have added three new players. The Crusaders have added five rookies and the Hurricanes four.

Peter Lakai, Riley Higgins, George Bell, Noah Hotham, and Macca Springer were all members of the New Zealand Under 20 squad who won the Oceania Championship in commanding style in July. 

Taha Kemara went close to making the same team while Nikora Broughton was a standout in the Bunnings Super Rugby Under 20 competition in May. 

Christian Lio-Willie, George Dyer and Jared Proffit are more experienced players rewarded for longer term consistency.  

The full list of rookies is:

Highlanders (6): Cameron Millar, Fabian Holland, Luca Inch, Nikora Broughton, James Arscott, Will Tucker. 

Crusaders (5): Christian Lio-Willie, George Bell, Noah Hotham, Taha Kemara, Macca Springer. 

Chiefs (3): George Dyer, Jared Profitt, Peniasi Malimali.

Hurricanes (4): Jacob Devery, Peter Lakai, Riley Higgins, Daniel Sinkinson. 2

Blues (3): Josh Fusitu’a, Rob Rush, Caleb Tangitau.

Five Rookies to Watch

Noah Hotham (Crusaders) - Tasman had a disappointing Bunnings NPC season missing the semifinals for the first time in 11 seasons. Halfback Noah Hotham was a bright spot for the Mako. The New Zealand Under 20 starting pick made 10 appearances and scored seven tries.

With quick distribution, tactical nous and a slick running game Hotham will be groomed to be a long term replacement for centurion Bryn Hall. Noah is the son of Hamilton Boys’ High School First XV coach Nigel Hotham who has won five National Top Four titles. His sister Jazmin Felix-Hotham is in the Black Ferns Sevens. 

Peter Lakai (Hurricanes) - The Wellington No.8 is still eligible for another season of Under 20s rugby but is unlikely to compete in the age group category again following a ‘beast’ season for the Wellington Lions.

Lakai made more carries (147) than any player in the NPC. He was also third in the tackle count with 139.

It was a powerful run by Lakai that set up TJ Perenara for the winning try in Wellington’s 19-12 Ranfurly Shield success over Hawke’s Bay in Napier.

Against Taranaki, Lakai scored three tries in a 31-25 win, one of only seven forwards to accomplish that feat for Wellington. For the first time since 1986 Wellington won 10 NPC games in capturing the title for the first time since 2000.

Lakai is a product of St Patrick’s College Silverstream and the famous Petone Rugby Club, though his junior club was Avalon.

Fabian Holland (Highlanders) - Lock Fabian Holland is hard to miss standing 204cm and 118kg. In just his second NPC game in 2021 he turned heads with a 30-metre runaway against Wellington. 

His development continued at a brisk pace this year. He helped the Highlanders win two out of three matches in Bunnings Super Rugby Under 20 and then featured for Otago in eight games in the Bunnings NPC.

Holland is from the Netherlands, and after seeing the All Blacks play on TV immediately joined a Dutch rugby club to begin chasing his rugby dream. In 2018 he arrived in New Zealand and has cracked the professional game after a spell at Christchurch Boys’ High School. 

Caleb Tangitau (Blues) - Outside back Caleb Tangitau has already played international rugby at the highest level, a member of the New Zealand Sevens team at the 2022 World Cup and Commonwealth Games. He has scored 17 tries in 21 games. 

Tangitau was selected for the New Zealand Secondary Schools’ out of Westlake Boys’ High School. His impression was so big he became their first New Zealand Schools’ player since Ben Botica in 2007.

Quick on his feet with good distribution Tangitau will add even more excitement to a Blues backline that scored 72 tries last season. 

Jared Proffit (Chiefs) - The 29 year old prop is the oldest of the rookie recruits. Out of Gisborne Boys’ High School, Proffit played for Poverty Bay in 2012 before shifting across the county to New Plymouth where he has made 62 appearances for Taranaki since 2015.

A model of consistency, Proffit will add even more strength to a Chiefs pack which boasts All Blacks Aidan Ross, Angus Ta’avao and Samisoni Taukei’aho.

NOTE: The remaining seven DHL Super Rugby Pacific squads will be revealed over the coming weeks.


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