Meet the Rookies – The Highlanders

2019 11 26 Coote Rugby NZ 074 1

Front: Kirisi Kuridrani, Ethan De Groot, Connor Garden-Bachop, Ricky Jackson, Sione Misiloi

Back: Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Zane Kapeli, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Jesse Parete, Jeff Thwaites


Jeff Thwaites*

DOB: 22 November 1992

Position: Tighthead Prop

Mitre 10 Cup team: Bay of Plenty

The scoop: Tauranga’s Jeff Thwaites joins the Highlanders from the Chiefs. He was originally called in last year for the Hamilton Super Rugby club as a replacement player, but he ended up making 11 appearances. Thwaites is an electrician by trade and will be joined in Dunedin by fellow Bay of Plenty teammate Zane Kapeli. 


Zane Kapeli

DOB: 28 September 1992

Position: Loose forward

Mitre 10 Cup team: Bay of Plenty

The scoop: Zane Kapeli featured for Tonga at the Rugby World Cup in Japan this year and faced the All Blacks in Tonga in Hamilton earlier in 2019. The Steamers loose forward made a name for himself at the World Cup, when he flattened England No 8 Billy Vunipola in their opening game. Kapeli is a builder and is a former rugby league player, having suited up for the Waiheke Rams alongside Kiwis and Melbourne Storm hooker Brandon Smith.


Jona Nareki

DOB: 27 December 1997

Position: Wing

Mitre 10 Cup team: Otago

The scoop: Jona Nareki was a force to be reckoned with for Otago in the Mitre 10 Cup this year (alongside best friend Vilimoni Koroi). The 21-year old scored eight tries in nine games, running 850 metres and beating 43 defenders. Nareki was involved in the World Champion winning New Zealand Under 20 side, before going onto win a World Cup with the All Blacks Sevens side. His long-term goal is to make the All Blacks, so a full time Super Rugby contract with the Highlanders will certainly help his cause.


Ricky Jackson

DOB: 2 August 1998

Position: Hooker

Mitre 10 Cup team: Otago

The scoop: Born and bred in Dunedin, 21-year old Jackson made his Highlanders debut last year. He was called into the squad as injury cover and in round three, made his debut against the Melbourne Rebels. Jackson was part of the 2018 New Zealand Under 20 side and he’ll be learning from two of the best in fellow Highlanders hookers Liam Coltman and Ash Dixon in 2020.



Sione Misiloi

DOB: 3 November 1994

Position: Loose forward/lock

Mitre 10 Cup team: Otago

The scoop: Sione Misiloi was schooled in Oamaru and played Heartland rugby for North Otago. The dynamic loose forward debuted for Otago in the Mitre 10 Cup last year. He offers versatility to the Highlanders forward pack, being able to play blindside flanker, No 8 and lock.  


Manaaki Selby-Rickit

DOB: 5 June 1996

Position: Lock

Mitre 10 Cup team: Southland

The scoop: The two-metre tall lock missed the 2019 Mitre 10 Cup as he recovered from back surgery, but he’s set to have strong 2020 Super Rugby campaign with the Highlanders. He’s the son of former All Black Hud Rickit and also brother to top netballers Te Paea and Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit.


Ethan De Groot

DOB: 22 July 1998

Position: Prop

Mitre 10 Cup team: Southland

The scoop: Ethan De Groot comes out of the Southland Rugby Academy and made his Mitre 10 Cup debut for Southland last year. The 21-year old was doing his building apprenticeship but has had to put that on the back-burner now that he’s got a fulltime contract. The gutsy prop played for the Highlanders in a pre-season gam against the Waratahs in Alexandra in February. De Groot dislocated his kneecap in round two of the Mitre 10 Cup this year but is expected to be fully fit by the start of the season.


Jesse Parete*

DOB: 20 April 1993

Position: Loose forward/lock

Mitre 10 Cup team: Taranaki

The scoop: Jesse Parete makes the move down south from the Chiefs. The Taranaki flanker moved to Melbourne after finishing up at New Plymouth Boys High School in 2010 to take up a contract with the Melbourne Storm’s Under 20s side, but he returned to rugby union and has become an experienced provincial rugby player.



Kirisi Kuridrani**

DOB: 12 December 1991

Position: Wing

Mitre 10 Cup team: Counties Manukau

The scoop: The Highlanders add to their outside back’s stocks with Kirisi Kuridrani joining the side in 2020. He previously played for the Queensland Reds in Super Rugby and has been playing in Japan for the Honda Heat for the last two years. Kuridrani is the brother of Nemani Nadolo and the cousin of Tevita Kuridrani. He had a solid season for Counties Manukau in this year’s Mitre 10 Cup.


Teariki Ben-Nicholas

DOB: 18 July 1995

Position: Loose forward

Mitre 10 Cup team: Wellington

The scoop: Teariki Ben-Nicholas is a mobile No 8 who has a similar playing presence on the field as Ardie Savea. He’s represented the New Zealand Under 20s and University side. He was a standout for the Wellington Lions in the Mitre 10 Cup this year, making 83 carries and beating 39 defenders in 12 outings.


Connor Garden-Bachop

DOB: 19 April 1999

Position: Outside back

Mitre 10 Cup team: Wellington

The scoop: Bachop is a well-known rugby last name. Connor’s father is former All Black Stephen Bachop and his older brother is Jackson, who plays for the Hurricanes and alongside him at the Lions. Connor has also played Mitre 10 Cup rugby for Canterbury. He played his schoolboy rugby in Wellington for Scots College with Highlanders midfielder Thomas Umaga-Jensen.


Scott Gregory

DOB: 7 January 1999

Position: Utility back

Mitre 10 Cup team: Northland

The scoop: Scott Gregory is an exciting prospect who has already got a load of experience for someone so young. He’s played for the New Zealand Under 20’s, was contracted to Northland when he was just 18 and is currently contracted to the All Blacks Sevens. Gregory will leave the Highlanders squad in April to start preparing for the Olympic games later in the year.


*Previously played Investec Super Rugby on an interim contract

**Previously played Super Rugby in Australia


View all