Rivez Reihana forms a coterie of up-and-coming talent selected for Northland alongside vastly experienced campaigners in this year's Bunnings Warehouse NPC, which gets under way on Friday, August 6.
The Wellington Lions at Sky Stadium on Saturday will provide the ideal springboard for the men in Cambridge Blue to test their preparedness, but Northland mentor George Konia is looking forward to the challenge.
The biggest injury concern is combative loose forward Tom Robinson, who suffered a nasty concussion in Northland's pre-season match against Auckland at Semenoff Stadium last weekend, and won't be available for Saturday's game.
The bulk of the team is largely predicable with the likes of skipper Jordan Olsen, centurion Ross Wright, and veterans Rene Ranger, Sam Nock, Jordan Hyland, Dan Hawkins, Josh Goodhue, and Sam McNamara.
"We've got a good balance of young and new players. Ross Wright has played 100 games, Rene Ranger has played 98 compared to some other players who haven't played a game so it's a big difference in experience with some of our young players, so we're working really hard now to try and bridge that gap," Konia said.
Forcing their way into the squad after a stellar club rugby campaign are brothers Rob and Brady Rush, sons of legendary New Zealand 7s rep Eric Rush, while Jone Macilai, Tamati Tua, Johnny Cooper, and Blake Hohaia have also being picked for this year's campaign.
Konia has been particularly impressed with former Manawatu Turbos lock Liam Hallam-Eames, who the head coach says brings a lot of excitement and experience to Northland.
Hallam-Eames had a good pre-season outing against Auckland last weekend and is available for selection against Wellington.
For now, the focus is on the first match and Konia said a first game away against the Lions was always going to be a tough start to any campaign.
"They're a big, strong team and they'll be fairly confident after the pre-season they've had, but we'll just really focus on making sure that we're fully prepared, we analyse them, and prepare accordingly.
"We've got a pretty good draw this year, but we've got to take one game at a time again like last year. We're getting better at travelling away, playing away from home, and we just have to go there and prepare as best we can."
Apart from a few niggles, he said the squad was in pretty good shape.
Northland lost to Hawke's Bay in last year's championship final and Konia wants to make sure if his team is to emulate that feat, they'll need better decision-making and be more rugby smart.
"Any success we have as a rugby team is based on hard work and our understanding of that became clearer towards the end of last year. We're not taking last year's results for granted, we don't have to go back to go forward so we need to start ahead of where we finished last year.
"That means, because it's a short pre-season, we really need to study and prepare probably 50 per cent better than we did last year. The physical nature of our playing will come naturally, but it's just making sure that we're making better decisions and more rugby smart than last year."
He lauded Taniwha fans for sticking by the team in both home and away games over the years.
"When our players have to go to those dark places where we're hard on our tryline, 5m out and we're defending our hearts out and we get that turnover, sometimes it's just the support from the crowd that helps us in those situations."
Northland's first home game is against Taranaki on August 15, Otago a week later, Counties Manukau on September 11, Tasman on September 18, and Waikato on October 2.
The full Northland squad:
Allan Craig, Ben Tou, Blake Hohaia, Brady Rush, Coree Te Whata-Colley, Corey Taylor, Dan Hawkins, George Tuineau, Isi Manu, Johnny Cooper, Jonah Mau'u, Jone Macilai, Jordan Hyland, Jordan Olsen, Josh Goodhue, Kaliopsi Uluilakepa, Leka Tu'ungafasi, Liam Hallam-Eames, Noah Cooper, Pisi Leilua, Raikabula Momoedonu, Rene Ranger, Rivez Reihana, Rob Rush, Ross Wright, Sam McNamara, Sam Nock, Scott Gregory, Setefano Funaki, Tamati Tua, Tom Robinson, Will Grant.