Tanaka to become the first Japanese player to play Super Rugby
The Highlanders will have to wait at least another week before they are able to list legendary All Black Brad Thorn on their team sheet in an official competition match.
The 38-year-old, who will become the oldest player to play Super Rugby when he eventually takes to the field, will miss the Highlanders' first match of the season against the Chiefs in Dunedin on Friday with a calf injury sustained in the pre-season build-up.
All Blacks Ben Smith and Ma'a Nonu have recovered from niggling injuries and will take their places at fullback and inside centre respectively.
Southland hooker Brayden Mitchell has won the race to fill in for the suspended captain Andrew Hore - who is serving out a ban resulting from his vicious attack from behind on Wales lock Bradley Davies in November last year.
Hore's suspension, which runs until February 24, has already seen him miss all three of the Highlanders' pre-season matches.
Apart from Thorn and Hore other players sidelined are Jake Paringatai (hand injury, two weeks away from a return) and Tamati Ellison (shoulder, six months).
Thorn is expected to be available next week.
Fumiaki Tanaka will become the first Japanese player to play Super Rugby if he takes the field, after countryman Shota Horie didn't get off the pine for the Rebels last weekend.
Lima Sopoaga will start at flyhalf, after beating off the challenge of Hayden Parker.
Three players will make their first run-on start for the Highlanders - All Blacks Tony Woodcock (at prop) and Nonu (in the midfield), as well as Joe Wheeler on the flank.
In the reserves Liam Coltman, Fumiaki Tanaka and Hayden Parker will all make their debut if they cut the white chalk.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Phil Burleigh, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear (captain), 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Joe Wheeler, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Elliot Dixon, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Buxton Popoali'i.
Date: Friday, February 22
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19.35 (06.30 GMT)
Referee: Steve Walsh
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser, Kane McBride
TMO: Vinny Munro