Super Rugby preview
Experienced Highlanders have complete squad
Greg Growden and ESPN Staff
February 14, 2013
Crusaders' Brad Thorn attempts to crash through the Reds defence, Reds v Crusaders, Super Rugby Final, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, Australia, July 9, 2011
Veteran forward Brad Thorn is back for another tilt at Super Rugby. © Getty Images
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The 2013 Highlanders boast 11 past or present All Blacks in their line-up, including Brad Thorn, and Greg Growden believes they will threaten for the title.

Last season: Ninth overall, fourth in New Zealand conference; the Highlanders were left to lament key injuries, particularly to Colin Slade and the inside backs, as they fell short of the play-offs after winning seven of their first nine fixtures. The team paid, ultimately, for a lack of strike power, compared with their conference rivals, scoring only 359 points and 36 tries.

Key man: Nasi Manu enjoyed a breakout season in 2012, tallying more runs than any other player in the competition (197) and more run metres than any other forward (952). The backrower also featured strongly in the tight, tallying 37 pick and drives, and his efforts were key in the Highlanders' campaign. He can be expected to do better again given the stronger Highlanders pack of 2013.

Rising star: Jason Emery signed after just one season for Manawatu Turbos in the ITM Cup, and he then impressed for New Zealand's Baby Blacks in the IRB Junior World Cup, breaking tackles and showing great hands as well as power in defence. The centre is regarded by many good New Zealand judges as a star of the future, but he turned 19 only in September 2012 and may get only limited game time.

Season preview: Tony Woodcock and Ma'a Nonu, from the Blues, and, crucially, Brad Thorn, from Japan, have signed both to complement the experience added by Andrew Hore and Hosea Gear in 2012 and to set against the loss of Adam Thomson; the Highlanders have a strong squad with grunt up front and strike out wide, and they seem to have put their eggs firmly in the basket marked 2013.

Greg Growden's verdict: Not that long ago, overseas teams feared going to Dunedin, where Carisbrook was renowned as the "House of Pain". Pleasure replaced the pain as the Highlanders gradually lost their grunt, but wise recruiting and the move to a space-age stadium in the middle of town has revitalised the Highlanders. This year, they will boast 11 past or present All Blacks, including the mighty warrior Brad Thorn. Already Jamie Joseph, the Highlanders coach, is saying they are going to win the title; early days, but they will threaten.

Tip: Third in New Zealand conference. Finish: Eighth overall.

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