Petone loose forward Brad Shields will lead the Wellington Lions into a new era under new head coach Chris Gibbes.
Gibbes and his assistants Rodney So'oialo and Andre Bell, have named Shields as captain of a 2017 squad that includes nine Mitre 10 Cup rookies, and 11 players who will wear the Wellington Lions jersey for the first time.
With four current All Blacks and 13 members of the Hurricanes Super Rugby squad including tight forwards Jeffery To'omaga-Allen and Sam Lousi and star backs Julian Savea and Wes Goosen, there is grunt up front and fire-power out wide.
"I'm really pleased with the squad we've picked," Gibbes said. "We have a good mix of experience and youth, but whoever pulls on the jersey I expect them to play with the same pride and effort regardless of their status."
The other 2017 Hurricanes players in the squad include All Blacks Dane Coles, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara and Vaea Fifita, as well as lock James Blackwell, hooker Leni Apisai, halfback Kemara Hauiti-Parapara and big wing Ben Lam.
First-five Jackson Garden-Bachop comes off the back of his first year of Super Rugby with the Melbourne Rebels.
Garden-Bachop adds to the depth in the crucial position of first five where off-season signing Trent Renata and returning former Lion Dan Kirkpatrick provide plenty of experience.
New Zealand Under 20s representatives hooker Asafo Aumua, prop Alex Fidow, lock Isaia Walker-Leawere, midfielder Thomas Umaga-Jensen, and Hauiti-Parapara, along with former St Kentigern College halfback Carlos Price, add youthful enthusiasm to the Lions ranks.
The blessing of the Wellington Lions Jersey by Neavin Broughton - Te Ati Awa. Photo. Dave Lintott Photography 2017
Gibbes has also rewarded Wellington's form club players with the selection of Jubilee Cup winning Old Boys University players No.8 Teariki Ben-Nicholas, loose forward Will Mangos and second five Regan Verney.
The OBU trio joins midfielders Levi Harmon (Poneke) and Billy Proctor (Marist St Pats), loose forward James Tuiatua (Marist St Pats), Price (Petone) and Waikato loan player and openside Du'Plessis Kirifi as players who have yet to play at Mitre 10 Cup level.
"The Wellington XV's preseason matches against Manawatu and Tasman allowed us to learn a lot about a wider group of players and was really valuable in assisting with the final selection of our squad.
"It was great to see a group of players put their hands up and show us the sort of attitude we are looking for from our Lions players."
Ben-Nicholas, Mangos, Kirifi and Tuiatua are part of a new-look loose forward mix led by Shields, Vaea Fifita, and Samoan international Galu Taufale. Similarly, Verney, Harmon, Proctor and Umaga-Jensen provide a fresh look to the Lions midfield stocks.
The Wellington Lions Mitre 10 Cup season kicks off against Manawatu in Palmerston North on August 20. The Lions first home match at Westpac Stadium is against Taranaki on August 26.
Wellington's draw includes three family-friendly kick off times, of 2.30pm against Taranaki and Otago, and 4.30pm against Canterbury.
The Wellington Lions 2017 Mitre 10 Cup squad is:
The Wellington Lions 2017 Mitre 10 Cup home draw is:
v Taranaki, Saturday, August 26: 2:35pm
v Hawke's Bay, Wednesday, September 6: 7:35pm
v Canterbury, Sunday, September 17: 4:35pm
v Otago, Sunday, October 1: 2:35pm (Curtain Raiser: Wairarapa Bush v Horowhenua Kapiti, 12:10pm)
v Northland, Thursday, October 12: 7:35pm