Highlanders 2022 Season

Presuming we lose on Saturday here is a bit of a review of the season.

From a fan’s perspective this has been the worst Highlanders season since we tried to buy a championship with Tony Woodcock, Brad Thorn and Ma’a Nonu in 2013. But, at least with that bunch there were names to create some false home each week. Most weeks we thought there is a chance Nonu will crack through the midfield, Gear will light it up down the wing and our All Black laden forward back will demo the opposition. Apart from a couple of occasions, this did not happen.

At the start of the season many Highlanders fans knew the side wouldn’t be topping the Blues or the Crusaders, but thought it should be a 50/50 with the Chiefs and Hurricanes, and rack up consistent victories against the others. Not the case.

From the outset the side was woeful, could only score tries through pick and goes, or lineout drives. Players came back in poor nick, there were long-layoff guys coming back from injury who may have been pushed in a bit early and some lads who got were ruled out early on. Those factors plus poor depth and a lack of talent was a recipe of a mediocre season.

Tony Brown’s once legendary backline moves dissolved to crash balls for Thomas Umaga-Jensen and hoping Connor Garden-Bachop could wriggle his way through some defenders from the back. Sadly, it took him a number of rounds to get back to match fitness after a long layoff. Hunt, Banks, Paea, Dawai, Coombes-Fabling and even Fakatava at the beginning of the season were all ineffective.

Fakatava came right and has flourished as the season went on, and Dawai had his moments. While Timu had his moments too and was looking good for a long run post his early season injury.

Above all else there was no consistency in selection, it reeked of desperation. In the midfield it was a pick in mix of Thomas Umaga-Jensen and who ever else wanted to play alongside him. Gregory, Paea, Timu and a couple of others as well. Same goes for the wingers, often the backline, apart from Umaga-Jensen offered as much punch as a celebrity boxing card.

The forwards looked like a tired group of journeymen supported by some real talent. De Groot was good once he shook off the Christmas ham. Daniel Lienert-Brown was a guy that shocked me, a man who had worn the no17 with pride for more than a decade suddenly became this stampeding menace. Our locks were a fine bunch if they were the playing group for a provincial team; A Super Rugby side, well they got flogged.

In the loose; Frizzell, Tu’u and Harmon quality players. Withy worth persevering with. The rest, if you ask whether they would make other squads, most would struggle to say they would. That should be the bar, are the Highlanders signing players other squads would want?

Historically the franchise has operated a model of turning unwanted players from rocks into diamonds. Sadly at the moment this prospecting mine is not delivering the results its followers are after.

Star performers

Backs: Thomas Umaga-Jensen. He showed everyone what he was capable, big strong and generally injury free. Let’s hope who ever comes on board next year can also offer a bit of penetration and take some pressure off him.

Forwards: Marino Mikaele Tu’u. Since shaking off his injury rust he has been nothing short of fantastic. For teams coming against the Highlanders they only really need to worry about three or four players and Tu’u is one of them. Big, strong and consistently brushes off tackles. His defensive work rate also improved as well.

Need to see more of: Folau Fakatava and Sam Gilbert. These two will likely spend a lot time together and both have shown glimpses of what they are capable of. Fakatava is much more polished than Gilbert, but the newly minted 10 should get first go at the first five jersey next year.

Recruitment targets

George Bridge not getting the game time he would be liking in Christchurch. Could be a good option to add some stability to what has been a reasonably poor Highlanders back three.

Noah Hotham seems the Crusaders are sniffing around. Have also heard the same around Nathan Hastie. Management should bite the bullet and bring in one of the young fellas for Kayne Hammington.

Peter Umaga-Jensen not getting the game time he would be wanted in Wellington. Rumour is the 'Landers are trying to get him down. On the other side of the coin apparently he is quite happy in Wellington.

Fabian Holland full contact.

A hooker who isn’t 30.

A coach following the season it might be difficult sadly to justify giving Dermody the reins.

There should be plenty of spots available in the squad, the management can’t justify continuing with what is currently there.

Season rating** 3/10

Just one point short of the number of games the side won. Poor execution. Lack of consistent selection, injuries and missed opportunities. Been a tough season to watch.

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