Crusaders Head Coach Scott Robertson has today confirmed his 38-man squad for Super Rugby Pacific in 2022, including nine players named for the first time.
While the core of the squad is maintained, including five players with more than 100 Super Rugby caps to their name and 12 current All Blacks, there is a mix of both established Super Rugby players and emerging talent from the Crusaders development pathway among the new members of the squad.
In the forwards, five players have been promoted from the Crusaders Academy - Finlay Brewis, Shilo Klein, Zach Gallagher, Dominic Gardiner, and Corey Kellow. They will be joined by Argentinian international, Pablo Matera.
Loosehead prop Finlay Brewis and hooker Shilo Klein are new to the Crusaders' front row, having completed the Crusaders Academy programme in 2020. They were both Canterbury Under 19 representatives, with Klein part of the team in 2018 before going on to represent New Zealand Under 20s. Brewis was part of the champion Canterbury side that won the Jock Hobbs Memorial National Under 19 tournament in 2019.
"Finlay and Shilo first came in to the Academy in 2018 so they've been part of our environment at Rugby Park for a while now and we've watched their development closely," Crusaders Head Coach Scott Robertson said. "We're looking forward to bringing them in to the squad full time to work with Jase Ryan and hone their craft as front-rowers."
Lock Zach Gallagher and loose forward Dominic Gardiner, who progressed through the local school and club grades together in Christchurch, have both carved out a similar path to professional rugby, from Captain of their respective First XV sides, Christ's College and St Bede's College. They've each represented New Zealand Secondary Schools', the Junior Crusaders and both the Crusaders and New Zealand Under 20s.
Former Sacred Heart College Deputy Head Boy and Vice-Captain of the First XV, Corey Kellow, also joins the Crusaders after just one year in the Academy, backing up an impressive debut NPC season where he played in all but one game for Canterbury.
"Local lads Zach and Dominic have come up through the representative age-grades here in Christchurch and we're really excited to give them a shot at Super Rugby level," Robertson continued. "Both were leaders on and off the field during their time at school and have impressed during their time in the Academy.
"Corey is another impressive young athlete. A former New Zealand Secondary Schools' Waterpolo representative, he holds three of the 10 all-time records for loose forwards in our Academy, including both power and speed records. He's a player who took his opportunity in this year's NPC campaign and contributed right away, and we're confident he'll do the same as part of our group next season.
"Last, but certainly not least in our forwards is Pablo Matera, who will add genuine star power to our pack in 2022. A physical player and an established leader, he'll have plenty to contribute to our group as one of the best loose forwards in the world and we look forward to Pablo and his family joining us in Christchurch soon," Robertson said.
In the backs, players previously announced in the squad include Taranaki's Kini Naholo and former Chiefs halfback, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi. Former Auckland, Blues and Hurricanes first five-eighth, Simon Hickey, has also been confirmed to join an experienced group of inside backs at the club.
“There is plenty of competition among our halfbacks and outside backs at the moment, and both Kini and Te Toiroa will come in and challenge for a spot straight away, which is really exciting for us as a coaching group," Robertson added. "At just 22 years of age, Kini is a powerful young talent while Te Toiroa brings exceptional skill and valuable experience, having played Super and international rugby for the All Blacks and Māori All Blacks.
"Finally, Simon Hickey is another player who will add to our backline depth. He's been unlucky with injury since his return to New Zealand but he's a talented first five with experience playing in New Zealand, Scotland and France, so we'll welcome him in to our group in the New Year."
The Crusaders will once again be captained by Scott Barrett, with Codie Taylor and David Havili to continue as Vice-Captains. The squad will assemble in early January, with the All Blacks set to re-join the group from February.
The Crusaders first pre-season game is their annual Farmlands Cup fixture against the Highlanders in Weston (Oamaru) on February 4 and their second pre-season game will be confirmed shortly. The Crusaders' opening game of the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific season is against the Highlanders in Christchurch on February 19.