Above: Malo Tuitama scored a hat-trick against the Tasman Makos in their warm-up match in Seddon on Thursday. He returns to the squad from last season and is joined by nine players in line to make their NPC debuts.
The Wellington Lions squad to try and lead the province out of division 2 and back into the top flight of the Men’s NPC competition features a group of new players.
Petone and Hurricanes loose forward Brad Shields will captain the squad that opens its NPC campaign in Palmerston North next Sunday against the Manawatu Turbos.
There are nine players in the squad who have yet to play NPC rugby, but 13 Hurricanes players and five current internationals in the Lions' den in 2017.
New and uncapped NPC players in the squad are:
Du'Plessis Kirifi (Waikato), Will Mangos (Old Boys University), James Tuiatua (Marist St Pat’s), Kemara Hauiti-Parapara (Tawa), Carlos Price (Petone), Levi Harmon (Poneke), Billy Proctor (Marist St Pat’s), Regan Verney (Old Boys-University), Thomas Umaga-Jensen (Wainuiomata)
New Wellington players who have been capped at NPC level previously are:
Trent Renata (Old Boys University, previously Waikato), Ben Lam (Tawa, previously Auckland)
The Wellington Lions squad also includes returning first five-eighth Dan Kirkpatrick (Petone, from France) and Tolu Fahamokioa (Tawa, from Hawke’s Bay).
Tawa’s Sitiveni Paongo has been named as a hooker in the squad, after playing loosehead prop for the past two seasons in club rugby.
Northern United first five-eighth Jackson Garden-Bachop joins the squad after playing for the Rebels in Super Rugby in 2017.
Current or recent All Blacks also named in the squad are Dane Coles (Poneke), Vaea Fifita (Wellington), Ardie Savea (Oriental-Rongotai), TJ Perenara (Northern United) and Julian Savea (Oriental-Rongotai), while Galu Taufale (Poneke) is a current Samoa international.
Reg Goodes (Poneke), Matt Proctor (Oriental-Rongotai), Peter Umaga-Jensen (Wainuiomata), TJ Va'a (Wainuiomata), Losi Filipo (Petone) and Greg Foe (Poneke) were all unavailable due to injury.
After playing Manawatu for the Coronation Cup in their season opener on 20 August, the Lions play their first home game the following Saturday afternoon against Taranaki for the John F Henning Trophy.
Home matches to follow are against Hawke’s Bay on Wednesday 6 September at 7.35pm, Canterbury on Sunday 17 September at 4.35pm, Otago on Sunday 1 October at 2.35pm and Northland on Thursday 12 October at 7.35pm.
Leni Apisai (Northern United)
Asafo Aumua (Avalon)
Dane Coles (Poneke)
Sitiveni Paongo (Tawa)
Joe Apikotoa (Hutt Old Boys Marist)
Tolu Fahamokioa (Tawa)
Alex Fidow (Oriental-Rongotai)
Jeff To'omaga-Allen (Marist St Pats)
Vince Sakaria (Marist St Pats)
James Blackwell (Petone)
Sam Lousi (Marist St Pats)
Isaia Walker-Leawere (Poneke)
Vaea Fifita (Wellington)
*Teariki Ben-Nicholas (Old Boys University)
**Du'Plessis Kirifi (Loan Player)
**Will Mangos (Old Boys University)
Ardie Savea (Oriental-Rongotai)
Brad Shields (Petone)
**James Tuiatua (Marist St Pats)
Galu Taufale (Poneke)
**Kemara Hauiti-Parapara (Tawa)
TJ Perenara (Northern United)
**Carlos Price (Petone)
Sheridan Rangihuna (Hutt Old Boys Marist)
Jackson Garden-Bachop (Northern United)
Dan Kirkpatrick (Petone)
*Trent Renata (Oriental-Rongotai)
**Levi Harmon (Poneke)
**Billy Proctor (Marist St Pats)
**Thomas Umaga-Jensen (Wainuiomata)
**Regan Verney (Old Boys University)
Wes Goosen (Old Boys University)
*Ben Lam (Tawa)
Julian Savea (Oriental-Rongotai)
Malo Tuitama (Oriental-Rongotai)
*Uncapped for Wellington Lions
**Uncapped in Men’s NPC