Coach Tony Brown said the outside backs and loose forwards had provided a lot of thought for the selectors before settling on their final 23.
The key requirement Brown would be looking for was playing for 80 minutes, a reflection of the side's ability to dominate one half of each of their warm-up games.
A feature of the selection is the choice of Irishman Jack Regan at lock with Josh Dickson. The pair played together for Otago in the Mitre 10 Cup and it caps a good year for Regan, who arrived in New Zealand when lockdown struck last year but who decided to stay and won himself a Super Rugby position.
Brown said, "It's funny how rugby works sometimes. If you get the opportunity and work hard when you do get it, good things can happen.
"That is what has happened to Jack. He has taken than opportunity, and shown he is good enough to play Super Rugby."
Brown put him in the Alex Ainley mould – a player who put his nose down and went to work.
The Highlanders have named six forwards in their substitutes with an extra loose forward.
Among them is the former All Black Liam Squire who was being managed in his return after a year out of playing.
"We just want to get him started," Brown said.
"I'm sure he will be nervous, but we're looking forward to getting him out there."
Brown confirmed the high ankle sprain suffered by centre Fetuli Paea in Friday's warm-up game against the Hurricanes needed surgery and he would miss the season as a result.
Hooker Ash Dixon said the players were ready for action in front of their home crowd, boosted by the Orientation Week crowd in the Zoo at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
It had been a big year for Dixon in 2020. Success with Hawke's Bay, both in retaining the Ranfurly Shield and winning promotion to the upper level of the Mitre 10 Cup had been especially enjoyable as had the end of Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa.