New era for Crusaders
SQUAD ANNOUNCEMENT: There will be nine new faces in the Crusaders squad in 2017, and the return of one familiar face.
Scott Robertson announced his first squad as the Crusaders head coach, and said he could not be more excited about the potential in this group.
"Within the squad of 38, we are boasting five players who have played more than 100 games for this team [as well as Israel Dagg on 99 Super Rugby caps and Matt Todd on 94].
"We have eleven players currently away with the All Blacks, and a further six players about to represent either the Maori All Blacks or Barbarians teams.
"That is a wealth of experience and talent that we are blessed with here, and we are complementing that with some incredibly exciting raw talent in 2017," Robertson said.
Of the ten new Crusaders in 2017, four are in the forwards.
Prop Oliver Jager makes the step up to Super Rugby after an impressive debut season with the Canterbury provincial team.
Hailing from Ireland originally, Robertson said Jager has a great story to tell about his journey to Super Rugby:
"Oli first came to New Zealand at his own expense to attend a six week course at the Crusaders International High Performance Unit, straight after high school. He enjoyed the experience so much that he opted to return the following year, and that led to an offer of a spot in the Crusaders Academy. He had a strong debut season for the Canterbury team this year and, at just 21 years of age, is showing potential in spades."
The Crusaders' new hooker is Andrew Makalio from Tasman.
Makalio has represented Auckland in every age-group from Under-15s to Auckland B, but shifted to Tasman in 2016 to try his luck and, with a 120kg frame and some incredible power and pace, it did not take long for him to be noticed.
"This guy has got everything going for him and has the potential to be a real star.
"He is a really exciting addition to our trio of hookers and I am looking forward to helping him develop in this team," Robertson said.
Another new player out of the Tasman camp is lock Quinten Strange. Strange was Nelson College 1st XV Captain in 2014 and also made the NZ Secondary Schools side. He was selected in the NZ U20 team this year, and off the back of some impressive performances there earned selection in the Tasman provincial team.
"I got to see first hand how impressive Quentin can be when I worked with him in the NZ U20s. He has been prominent for Tasman in his debut season and is showing all signs of being another excellent Crusaders lock," Robertson said.
Adding to the loose forward stocks this season is Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, a stalwart of the Manawatu Turbos. Robertson said he will bring some valuable experience to the group: "Heiden has been on the provincial scene for a while now, but we want to give him the chance to show he has got what it takes at Super Rugby level too. We know that he has some great skills and the work ethic to make this opportunity count."
Three of the new backs for 2017 have previously been announced – Bryn Hall at halfback, Seta Tamanivalu in the midfield and Digby Ioane on the wing. Joining them as new faces in the backline are two exciting young outside backs and one returning face.
Tim Bateman, who played for the Crusaders from 2007–2010 and then the Hurricanes from 2012–2014, returns to his red and black roots to add some experience in the backs.
Robertson said his versatility and leadership will be a great asset to the team.
"We are stoked to have Tim back in the mix, and know that there is a lot he can add in a variety of positions. He will slot in seamlessly and provide some great leadership for our younger backs."
Earning a spot in the squad off the back of an impressive provincial campaign is Canterbury speedster George Bridge. Bridge has made his way through the Canterbury age grades, playing for the Canterbury U18 team, the 2014 Canterbury U19 Player of the Year, and a member of the 2015 New Zealand U20 squad, and is a graduate of the Crusaders Academy.
"George is a talented young player who knows how to score tries.
"He scored a double when he played his first pre-season game for the Crusaders last year, and scored five tries in eight games for Canterbury this provincial season.
"He is another player brimming with potential and we are excited to help him develop his natural talent," Robertson said.
The final new face in the 2017 Crusaders squad is explosive young wing Manasa Mataele. Mataele will make the move from Taranaki to the Crusaders with his uncle, Seta Tamanivalu.
"Seta and Manasa both have incredible abilities and it is awesome to be bringing them into the squad together. We can see a massive amount of natural ability and talent in Manasa that is ready to be unlocked. He is only 19 so has some time to develop, but I predict he will become a well-known name in New Zealand rugby within the next few years," Robertson said.
"I am delighted with the squad we have named today. I believe we have the ideal mix of experience and emerging talent, and a brilliant balance of skills across the park. I cannot wait to get started with the 2017 group and with the new coaching group of Brad Mooar, Leon MacDonald, Jason Ryan and myself."
Crusaders squad: Michael Alaalatoa, Wyatt Crockett, Oliver Jager, Joe Moody, Tim Perry, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Andrew Makalio, Codie Taylor, Scott Barrett, Luke Romano, Quinten Strange, Sam Whitelock, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Jed Brown, Mitchell Dunshea, Kieran Read, Pete Samu, Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd, Mitchell Drummond, Leon Fukofuka, Bryn Hall, Tim Bateman, Marty McKenzie, Richie Mo'unga, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, Seta Tamanivalu, Sean Wainui, George Bridge, Israel Dagg, Sione Fifita, Mitchell Hunt, Digby Ioane, Jone Macilai, Manasa Mataele.