Auckland have announced a 37-man squad for the Mitre 10 Cup that is oozing with talent as they seek to go one better than in 2015 and lift their first provincial title since 2007.
New head coach Nick White has the luxury of being able to call upon no less than 22 Super Rugby players, the envy of most provinces in the land. Obviously he will not see much of All Blacks such as Jerome Kaino and Malakai Fekitoa, but there will be a serious logjam in some areas once the Ioane brothers return from the Olympics, and if the likes of Steven Luatua and Ofa Tu'ungafasi miss the Rugby Championship cut.
"We had a lot of debutants in the squad last year. Hopefully with most of them returning it will add strength to the team and a bit more experience," said White.
"A lot of them have gained Super Rugby experience in 2016. They will be bringing back some of those professional rugby playing attitudes and disciplines which will take our squad to another level."
Among that group is lock Michael Fatialofa, who has performed strongly for the Hurricanes.
White, like Paul Feeney in 2015, has rewarded club form directly in several instances, notably in backs Joe Ravouvou and Pasqualle Dunn and in Manukau captain and loose forward Josh Kaifa, who was the 2015 Auckland B player of the season. There were no issues selecting a clutch of players whose clubs were in the second tier Portola Trophy.
"I'm very pleased with the club rugby competition this year. It's great to be able to select seven players out of the club scene, based on their performances," said White. "They've led their clubs well and hopefully they can bring some of that into our team, that fresh excitement."
Lock Liaki Moli returns from the Sunwolves and is poised to bring up his 50 caps for Auckland.
First five Simon Hickey, who was perhaps the youngest Auckland captain in the 133-year history of the union in 2015, will again assume the captaincy armband after an off-season kicking goals for Bordeaux-Begles in the French Top 14.
Auckland squad for Mitre 10 Cup:
Charlie Faumuina (Blues, Papatoetoe), Ofa Tu'ungafasi (Blues, Grammar TEC), Sam Prattley (Blues, Pakuranga), Marcel Renata (University), Tom McHugh (Grammar TEC), Isi Tu'ungafasi (Grammar TEC), James Lay (Pakuranga), Greg Pleasants-Tate (Highlanders, Ponsonby), Kurt Eklund (University), Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues, Ponsonby), Scott Scrafton (Blues, Grammar TEC), Michael Fatialofa (Hurricanes, Ponsonby), Liaki Moli (Sunwolves, Manukau Rovers), Ben Nee Nee (Pakuranga), Jerome Kaino (Blues, University), Steven Luatua (Blues, University), Taleni Seu (Chiefs, Grammar TEC), Siosiua (Josh) Kaifa (Manukau Rovers), Blake Gibson (Blues, Ponsonby), Sinclair Dominikovich-Murray (University), Joe Edwards (Blues, Pakuranga), Akira Ioane (Blues, ABs 7s, Ponsonby), Leon Fukofuka (Crusaders, Marist), Jono Hickey (Grammar TEC), Simon Hickey (Grammar TEC, c), Tyrone Elkington-MacDonald (University), Calvary Fonoti (Manukau Rovers), Latiume Fosita (Papatoetoe), George Moala (Blues, Grammar TEC), Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders, Pakuranga), Vince Aso (Hurricanes, Ponsonby), Rieko Ioane (Blues, ABs 7s, Ponsonby), Pasqualle Dunn (College Rifles), Liam Steel (University), Joe Ravouvou (College Rifles) Lolagi Visinia (Blues, Suburbs), Melani Nanai (Blues, Manukau Rovers)