Former NZ Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has been named in the Blues midfield line-up, as the five NZ franchises - plus newcomers Moana Pasifika - reveal their squads for next year's Super Rugby Pacific.
Tuivasa-Sheck, 28, rocked both rugby and rugby league codes with his January announcement that he had signed with NZ Rugby and the Blues for 2022, sparking conjecture over what position he might fill in the 15-a-side format.
After playing wing and fullback in league, he left the Warriors' 2021 NRL campaign early to link with Auckland and begin his rugby re-education, after starring across both codes at Otahuhu College. An official Auckland photoshoot even portrayed 'RTS' in both No.13 and No.14 jerseys, just to further muddy the waters.
Tuivasa-Sheck was due to make his much-anticipated NPC debut, when COVID-19 suspended the competition and eventually ruled Auckland out of contention, as the city's Alert Level 3 lockdown dragged on.
But Blues coach Leon MacDonald finally seems to have tipped his hand on where he sees Tuivasa-Sheck's skillset fitting, naming him in the centres, alongside All Blacks utility Rieko Ioane.
One shock inclusion for the Blues is former Crusaders lock Luke Romano, who has amassed 136 games for the southern franchise since 2011 and another 63 for Canterbury - the only domestic teams he's ever represented. With incumbent captain Patrick Tuipulotu heading to Japan for a season, MacDonald desperately needs his experience in the second row.
One-hundred-and-ninety NZ Rugby-contracted players are spread across the five squads, with another 38 players signed by Moana Pasifika. They include 31 rookies - including Tuivasa-Sheck - taking up their first Super Rugby contracts.
The squads see some significant names returning to the competition, after stints overseas, including current All Blacks Beauden Barrett, Brodie Retallick and TJ Perenara, and former internationals Dom Bird and Owen Frans, although the latter is doubtful with an Achilles injury.
"It's hard to remember a time when there were so many talking points and so much talent spread across our five squads," says NZR professional rugby general manager Chris Lendrum.
"When you throw Moana Pasifika into the mix, you get a real sense of the anticipation and excitement about the new Super Rugby Pacific competition.
"It's great to see some of the experience and knowledge that has returned to New Zealand, and those players will be invaluable on and off the field, where they set the example and standard for our rookies.
"There has been some movement in among the teams, which has spread some of the talent, and the new format will provide a real test of depth and tactics, as they chase a place in the eight-team playoffs."
The full squads for Super Rugby Pacific 2022 are:
Hookers - Kurt Eklund, Soane Vikena, Ricky Riccitelli
Props - Alex Hodgman, Jordan Lay, Ofa Tuungafasi, Marcel Renata, Nepo Laulala, Karl Tu'inukuafe
Locks - James Tucker, Josh Goodhue, Sam Darry, Luke Romano.
Loose forwards - Taine Plumtree, Tom Robinson, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Anton Segner, Hoskins Sotutu, Cameron Suafoa, Adrian Choat
Halfbacks - Finlay Christie, Sam Nock, Taufa Funaki
Inside backs - Beauden Barrett, Harry Plummer, Stephen Perofeta
Midfield - Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Tanielu Tele'a, Rieko Ioane, Corey Evans, Tamati Tua
Outside backs - Mark Telea, Caleb Clarke, Bryce Heem, AJ Lam, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Zarn Sullivan.
Unavailable due to injury - James Lay
Gains - Tuivasa-Sheck (Warriors), Barrett (Japan), Jordan Lay (Auckland), Riccitelli (Hurricanes), Romano (Crusaders), Tucker (Brumbies), Funaki (Auckland), Evans (Auckland), Tua (Northland), Suafoa (North Harbour), Choat (Auckland), Segner (Tasman)
On the move - Blake Gibson (Hurricanes), Emoni Narawa (Chiefs), Otere Black (Japan), TJ Faiane (Japan), Gerard Cowley-Tuioti (Japan), Patrick Tuipulotu (Japan), Jacob Pierce (Japan), Ray Nuia (Moana Pasifika), Luteru Tolai (Moana Pasifika), Jonathan Ruru (France), Dillon Hunt (Retired)
Coach Leon MacDonald: "Our key learning is that if we put in the mahi every week, every day and every session, and we do our homework and prepare well, then we can get the rewards.
"We can take real confidence from the Trans-Tasman title, but at the same time, we realise this is a new competition and we all start on zero points.
"I am confident we have a team with a good mix of internationals and young guys.
"Titles aren't the target every week - they are a consequence of us striving to improve in every aspect of our game and producing a level of rugby that we are proud of. It is going to be a hell of a ride."
Hookers - Samisoni Taukei'aho, Bradley Slater, Tyrone Thompson
Props - Aidan Ross, Atunaisa Moli, Angus Ta’avao, Ollie Norris, Sione Mafileo, Reuben O'Neill
Locks - Tupou Vaa'i, Brodie Retallick, Laghlan McWhannell, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Josh Lord
Loose Forwards - Mitchell Brown, Sam Cane, Luke Jacobson, Simon Parker, Pita Gus Sowakula, Kaylum Boshier, Samipeni Finau
Halfbacks - Brad Weber, Xavier Roe, Cortez Ratima
First five-eighths - Bryn Gatland, Kaleb Trask, Josh Ioane
Midfielders - Alex Nankivell, Anton Lienert-Brown, Quinn Tupaea, Rameka Poihipi, Gideon Wrampling
Outside backs - Jonah Lowe, Emoni Narawa, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Chase Tiatia, Shaun Stevenson, Rivez Reihana
Gains - Ioane (Highlanders), Retallick (Japan), Narawa (Blues), Thompson (Wellington), Finau (Waikato), Ratima (Waikato), Wrampling (Waikato)
On the move - Damian McKenzie (Japan), Lachlan Boshier (Japan), Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Crusaders), Kini Naholo (Crusaders), Bailyn Sullivan (Hurricanes), Ezekiel Lindenmuth (Moana Pasifika), Viliame Taulani (England), Nathan Harris (Retired)
Coach Clayton McMillan: "I am really excited with the squad we have assembled, highlighted by the vast majority of last year's roster being kept intact.
"Some valuable lessons have been learned in recent seasons, and we believe continuity of selection will help us take those learnings and start delivering consistently on our potential.
"Some internal belief started to emerge last year, after navigating our way through some real adversity, but it's important we only see that as the starting point.
"We have to be better and I am confident the squad we have selected will be motivated in more ways than one to do just that."
Hookers - Asafo Aumua, Dane Coles, James O'Reilly
Props - Tevita Mafileo, Alex Fidow, Xavier Numia, Tyrel Lomax, Pasilio Tosi, Pouri Rakete-Stones
Locks - James Blackwell, Dom Bird, Scott Scrafton, Justin Sangster
Loose forwards - Brayden Iose, Du'Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Blake Gibson, Ardie Savea, Tyler Laubscher, Devan Flanders, Caleb Delany, TK Howden
Halfbacks - Jamie Booth, TJ Perenara, Cam Roigard
First fives - Aidan Morgan, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Ruben Love
Midfield - Teihorangi Walden, Billy Proctor, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Bailyn Sullivan
Outside backs - Julian Savea, Jordie Barrett, Pepesana Patafilo, Salesi Rayasi, Wes Goosen, Josh Moorby
Unavailable due to injury - Owen Franks, Isaia Walker-Leawere
Gains - Bird (France), Gibson (Blues), Walden (Taranaki), Sullivan (Chiefs), Tosi (Bay of Plenty), Sangster (Bay of Plenty), Laubscher (Manawatu), Morgan (Wellington), Roigard (Counties-Manukau), Moorby (Southland), Delaney (Wellington), Howden (Manawatu), Franks (England)
On the move - Ngani Laumape (France), Vince Aso (Japan), Vaea Fifita (England), Ricky Riccitelli (Blues), Gareth Evans (Highlanders), Simon Hickey (Crusaders), Lolagi Visinia (Moana Pasifika), Jonathan Taumateine (Moana Pasifika), Orbyn Leger (Japan), Danny Toala (Moana Pasifika), Luke Campbell (France), Liam Mitchell (Italy), Kane Leaupepe (Retired), Fraser Armstrong (Retired)
Coach Jason Holland: "I'm excited about our first-year Hurricanes.
"We've got TK Howden and Justin Sangster coming onboard, both of whom have been dominant in the NPC this season and it will be great to see where they can get to in their first full year at Super level."
"In the backs, the majority of last year's group are back, but we are pleased to welcome Tei Walden, Bailyn Sullivan and Josh Moorby, who will add great competition for spots in that backline."
Hookers - Codie Taylor, Brodie McAlister, Shilo Klein
Props - Joe Moody, Oli Jager, Fletcher Newell, George Bower, Tamaiti Williams, Finlay Brewis
Locks - Scott Barrett, Quinten Strange, Mitchell Dunshea, Sam Whitelock, Zach Gallagher
Loose forwards - Tom Christie, Ethan Blackadder, Sione Havili Talitui, Cullen Grace, Pablo Matera, Dominic Gardiner, Corey Kellow
Halfbacks - Mitch Drummond, Bryn Hall, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi
First fives - Richie Mo'unga, Simon Hickey, Fergus Burke
Midfield - Jack Goodhue, David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Isaiah Punivai, Dallas McLeod
Outside backs - Chay Fihaki, George Bridge, Sevu Reece, Will Jordan, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Kini Naholo
Gains - Matera (Argentina), Tahuriorangi (Chiefs), Naholo (Chiefs), Hickey (Hurricanes), Gardiner (Canterbury), Brewis (Canterbury), Gallagher (Canterbury), Klein (Canterbury), Kellow (Canterbury)
On the move - Isileli Tuungafasi (Moana Pasifika), Andrew Makalio (Highlanders), Michael Alaalatoa (Ireland), Whetukamokamo Douglas (Japan), Tom Sanders (Japan), Ereatara Enari (Moana Pasifika), Brett Cameron (Japan), Manasa Mataele (Force), Luke Romano (Blues), Josh McKay (Scotland)
Hookers - Liam Coltman, Rhys Marshall, Andrew Makalio
Props - Ayden Johnstone, Jeff Thwaites, Ethan de Groot, Jermaine Ainsley, Josh Hohneck, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Saula Ma'u
Locks - Maanaki Selby-Rickit, Josh Dickson, Bryn Evans, Max Hicks, Sam Caird
Loose forwards - James Lentjes, Billy Harmon, Hugh Renton, Shannon Frizell, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Gareth Evans, Sean Withy
Halfbacks - Aaron Smith, Folau Fakatava, Kayne Hammington
First fives - Marty Banks, Mitchell Hunt
Midfield - Fetuli Paea, Patelesio Tomkinson, Solomon Alaimalo, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Ngatungane Punivai, Scott Gregory
Outside backs - Connor Garden-Bachop, Mosese Dawai, Vilimoni Koroi, Sam Gilbert, Josh Timu
Unavailable due to injury - Jona Nareki, Pari Pari Parkinson
Gains - Gareth Evans (Hurricanes), Makalio (Crusaders), Banks (Southland), Dawai (Waikato), Marshall (Ireland), Timu (Otago), Withy (Otago), Ma’u (Otago), Hicks (Tasman), Caird (Northland)
On the move - Josh Ioane (Chiefs), Ash Dixon (Japan), Siate Tokolahi (France), Kazuki Himeno (Japan), Teariki Ben-Nicholas (France), Michael Collins (Wales), Tim O'Malley (Italy), Jack Regan (Wales), Liam Squire (Retired)
Coach Tony Brown: "We're really looking forward to taking on Super Rugby Pacific with this team, we have some good experience up front, good playmakers in the backs, and good size and pace mixed throughout the squad.
"It's going to be a short pre-season, so it's good to have so many guys familiar with how we do things returning in 2022. We will obviously need to hit the ground running."
Hookers - Ray Niuia, Sam Moli, Luteru Tolai
Props - Sekope Kepu, Isileli Tuungafasi, Joe Apikatoa, Tau Koloamatangi, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Chris Apoua
Locks - Don Lolo, Mike McKee, Veikoso Poliniati, Alex McRobbie
Loose Forwards - Henry Stowers, Jack Lam, Sione Tuipulotu, Solomone Funaki, Penitoa Finau, Lotu Inisi, Sam Slade, Alamanda Motuga
Halfbacks - Ereatara Enari, Jonathan Taumateine, Manu Paea
First-fives - Christian Lealifano, Lincoln McClutchie, William Havili
Midfield: Levi Aumua, Danny Toala, Henry Taefu, Fine Inisi
Outside Backs - Lolagi Visinia, Neria Fomai, Tomasi Alosio, Solomone Kata, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Tima Fainga'anuku, Anzelo Tuituvuki