Super Rugby selection
Best mates to square off in Dunedin
February 21, 2013
All Blacks second-row Jarrad Hoeata celebrates his call-up with a portrait, Heritage Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand, July 13, 2011
Jarrad Hoeata will oppose best mate Craig Clarke after recently being best man at his wedding. © Getty Images
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Jarrad Hoeata will put friendship to one side when the Highlanders start their 2013 Super Rugby campaign against the Chiefs in Dunedin on Friday. The three-test All Black will oppose and Chiefs co-captain Craig Clarke at Forsyth Barr Stadium just weeks after he was best man at the lock's wedding.

"We've played together a lot for Taranaki so it will be interesting to play against him. We're great mates, but we'll be going toe to toe on Friday," Hoeata said.

Hoeata, 29, enters the season with much to prove after a subdued last year where he failed to recapture the dynamic form of 2011, which saw him earn All Blacks honours. This year his pre-season has been much smoother and he is eyeing a return to the black jersey.

"I had a slow start to 2012 and I didn't quite reach the form of the previous year," Hoeata conceded after a pectoral muscle injury hampered his preparation. "I really loved my time with the All Blacks in 2011 and I got that chance just from playing well with the Highlanders and it would be great to get another chance."

The Highlanders have won only one of their pre-season matches, losing to the Chiefs in Taupo, but he is optimistic about their prospects.

"It's hard to gauge anyone's form in the pre-season. I don't take a lot of notice of the results," Hoeata said. "The pre-season is more about combinations and getting game-time under your belt and that has been really beneficial to us. Team-wise, it (the goal) is definitely to win the competition. We see ourselves as contenders."

Injuries have blighted the Highlanders' preparations with Tamati Ellison out for most of the season with a shoulder injury, Colin Slade still working his way back to fitness and 38-year-old former All Black Brad Thorn missing the opener with a calf injury.

Coach Jamie Joseph has handed Highlanders debuts to All Blacks Ma'a Nonu and Tony Woodcock while former Crusaders loose forward Joe Wheeler will also play his first match for the franchise. Japan international halfback Fumiaki Tanaka is on the bench.

Highlanders: Ben Smith, Kade Poki, Phil Burleigh, Ma'a Nonu, Hosea Gear (capt), Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Nasi Manu, John Hardie, Joe Wheeler, Josh Bekhuis, Jarrad Hoeata, Ma'afu Fia, Brayden Mitchell, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Bronson Murray, Elliot Dixon, Tim Boys, Fumiaki Tanaka, Hayden Parker, Buxton Popoalii.

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