Waikato rugby coach Chris Gibbes today announced a 28-strong Air New Zealand Cup squad.

Gibbes described the squad as balanced, with a mix of experienced players and newcomers.

"The balance is good. We have players who are ready and willing to get stuck in to ensure Waikato makes a mark in the competition," he said.

Newcomers to the squad include props Ben May, Kieran Ramage, Jack Lam (loose forward), Ray Allen (openside flanker) and Dominiko Waqaniburotu (loose forward).

May and Lam have both transferred to Waikato from Tasman this season while Allen is a former Manawatu representative.

Midfielder Sam Christie and winger Savenaca Tokula return to the squad after being called in last year for injury cover.

Liam Messam, who has played 61 games for Waikato, will captain the side for the second year.

Prop Nathan White, absent from rugby in 2008 while recovering from back surgery, is another to return to the Waikato squad.

Aled de Malmanche, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Mils Muliaina, Brendon Leonard and Stephen Donald are unavaible due to All Blacks commitments while prop Toby Smith and centre Richard Kahui are both recovering from shoulder surgery and are not available.

Waikato's final pre-season game is this Friday against Taranaki in Hamilton. Their Air NZ Cup campaign opens on August 1, with a match against Southland in Invercargill.

Waikato squad
Forwards: Ole Avei, Vern Kamo, Hikairo Forbes, Ben May, Kieran Ramage, Nathan White, Kent Fife, Romana Graham, Toby Lynn, Kevin O'Neill, Ray Allen, Jack Lam, Sione Lauaki, Liam Messam (captain), Jordan Smiler, Dominiko Waqaniburotu.

Backs: David Bason, Josh Sutherland, Sam Christie, Trent Renata, Callum Bruce, Roimata Hansell-Pune, Jackson Willison, Tim Mikkelson, Henry Speight, Dwayne Sweeney, Savenaca Tokula, Sosene Anesi.

- NZPA