Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, Friday 5.35pm (AEDT)
Last meeting: Round 16 2012 - Chiefs 27 bt Highlanders 21 at Forsyth Barr Stadium
Head-to-head: Played 19 Highlanders 7 Chiefs 12
In Dunedin: Played 6 Highlanders 3 Chiefs 3
Referee: Steve Walsh (AUS)
TV: Live, FoxSports 2
TAB Sportsbet: Highlanders $1.80 Chiefs $1.95
Steve Samuelson writes: The Highlanders are the new Dad’s Army but recruits Brad Thorn (aged 38), Tony Woodcock (32) and Ma’a Nonu (30) still pack some firepower. Thorn is out (calf) but defending champion Chiefs have been hit by injuries and off-season defections, too. Highlanders to win.
AAP writes: The first all-Kiwi match of the season shapes as a cracker. Both sides have been hit by injury but the emerging Highlanders will still like their chances of taking the big scalp of the defending champions.
The Chiefs are missing Richard Kahui, Robbie Robinson and Andrew Horrell from their backline, on top of Sonny Bill Williams’ return to the NRL. The Highlanders won’t have suspended hooker Andrew Hore, as well as injured playmaker Colin Slade. There was very little between both sides in their two matches last year and both possess strong packs and dynamic backlines. Aaron Cruden’s class could be the difference.
HIGHLANDERS: Ben Smith, Kade Poki, Phil Burleigh, Ma'a Nonu, Hosea Gear (capt), Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Nasi Manu, John Hardie, Joe Wheeler, Josh Bekuis, Jarrad Hoeata, Ma'afu Fia, Brayden Mitchell, Tony Woodock. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Bronson Murray, Elliot Dixon, Tim Boys, Fumiaki Tanaka, Hayden Parker, Buxton Popoali'i.
CHIEFS: Gareth Anscombe, Patrick Osborne, Tim Nanai-Williams, Bundee Aki, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Fritz Lee, Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke, Ben Afeaki, Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Rhys Marshall, Ben Tameifuna, Michael Fitzgerald, Tanerau Latimer, Augustine Pulu, Charlie Ngatai, Lelia Masaga.