A schoolboy, two brothers and a lack of a halfback are features of the list of Otago contracted players announced yesterday.
The squad will begin training next month in preparation for the ITM Cup, due to start in mid August next year.
Otago Boys' High School First XV captain Michael Collins has been signed by Otago for three years and named in the squad, the first player to be signed at that level straight from school.
"We're thrilled to have contracted him,'' Otago Rugby Football Union chairman Wayne Graham said. "He is obviously an Otago boy and we are glad to be able to keep him here. To be able to secure him when there were a few after him is great. He is a talented player who we feel has the skills and talent to play at this level.''
Collins, a midfield back, was the only South Islander selected in this year's New Zealand Secondary Schools side.
Graham said the union were satisfied with the squad, and it had plenty of size in the forwards and enterprise in the backs.
"We are pretty happy with what we have got. There is a bit of steadiness there and some experience which is always vital at this level.''
There are 20 players back from last season's squad, which finished third in the championship, and they will be coached by former All Blacks' first five-eighths Tony Brown and assistant Phil Young.
Tamati Ellison has signed with the Highlanders and Otago after two years in Japan, and will be joined in the south by his younger brother Jacob Ellison, a prop, who has also dabbled at lock.
Others who are yet to play for Otago are young openside flanker Hugh Blake and outside back Marshall Suckling.
Blake was a player of promise who had been selected to attend a national colts training camp next week, while Suckling had impressed in the Pirates' backline in the past few years, although he has had injury problems.
English first five-eighths Tony Fenner is in the squad despite not playing one minute for the Otago side last season.
Graham said the union had to honour Fenner's two-year contract. He was currently playing in Italy.
No halfback had been named, although the union are talking to Sean Romans who had been the first-choice halfback for the past three years.
"We would like to have Sean involved again and are still talking but he has reached that stage in his career when he is considering a move overseas. But he is a player we still highly rate. And there are one or two very promising guys around.''
Romans is believed to be considering a short-term contract to play club rugby in England.
Negotiations are also continuing with prop Scott Manson and lock Tom Franklin and should conclude in the next few days.
Lock Tom Donnelly, who has signed for the Crusaders next season, is also in the squad.
Graham said Donnelly had a get-out clause in his contract after the Super 15 if he wished to play overseas, although the big lock was set on trying to get back into the All Blacks.
Adam Thomson had also been named but Graham said in all likelihood he would be on All Black duty.
Those not selected from last year's contracted players squad are hooker Sam Anderson-Heather, loose forward Dan Crichton, halfback Johnny Legg, and wings Joe Hill and Hanipale Galo.
The 2012 ITM Cup draw will be confirmed early next month.
Otago contracted players:
Front row: Halani Aulika, Jacob Ellison, James McGougan, Liam Coltman
Locks: Tom Donnelly, Daniel Ramsay, Rob Verbakel
Loose forwards: Hugh Blake, Adam Hill, Regan Tamihere, TJ Ioane, Gareth Evans, Paul Grant, Adam Thomson, Eben Joubert.
Inside backs: Hayden Parker, Glenn Dickson, Tony Fenner.
Midfield backs: Ben Atiga, Jayden Spence, Sam Giddens, Michael Collins, Tamati Ellison.
Outside backs: Matt Faddes, Buxton Popoali'i, Ben Smith, Marshall Suckling.
In negotiation: prop Scott Manson, lock Tom Franklin, halfback Sean Romans.
- OTAGO DAILY TIMES