Wellington Lions Announce 2022 Squad for Bunnings NPC
Wellington Lions Director of Rugby, Leo Crowley has named his 32-man squad for the upcoming 2022 Bunnings Warehouse NPC.
With a mixture of youth and experience, the side features eight players who’ve played for the All Blacks, including brothers Julian and Ardie Savea, and 22 current or former Super Rugby players.
New to the side for 2022, Oriental-Rongotai loosie Sione Halalilo joins New Zealand U20s midfielder Riley Higgins as part of a new generation of talented Wellington youngsters looking to make their mark in provincial rugby. Petone loosie Peter Lakai and MSP lock Josh Toómaga join the side on a full-time basis after debuting in 2021.
“Peter and Riley are both talented young men. We are thrilled to give them the recognition of being full-time Lions. We are looking forward to their continued development, and I am sure they will hit the ground running and are excited to get out on the field in the Lions jersey.”
“Like the others, Josh has really earnt his spot in the squad. What Josh brings is real physicality to his role. His aggressive approach will be a great addition to us.”
Following long-term injuries – Tawa's Pepesana Patafilo and two-metre lock Dom Bird return to the side, having spent time on the side lines early in 2022.
Iona Apineru returns for a second season, having made the shift from number 8 to tighthead prop during the offseason.
World cup winning All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder joins the Lions after winning Major League Rugby with Rugby United New York.
“It will be great to have Nehe in the environment following the Major League Rugby final in the States. He spent pre-season in the Hurricanes camp, so he has a good connection with a lot of the guys already. He will be a good fit and brings a wealth of knowledge,” said Crowley.
Now in his third season at the helm, Crowley is looking forward to the upcoming NPC campaign.
“I am excited with the calibre of players we have this season. There is plenty of fresh energy to complement the seasoned players, and we’re looking forward to the season kicking off.”
Whilst the squad has now been officially named, Crowley remains optimistic about further opportunities for regional players to get involved.
“It’s been a tough selection process, but I am happy with the squad overall. There are a few boys from clubland who have missed out, but with the season how it is, with a midweek game and the usual battle of attrition, I’m sure there is an opportunity for a few more boys to be called up to play for the Lions at some time during the season,” said Crowley.
The Lions’ coaching team will remain the same. Tamati Ellison and Paul Tito return to Crowley’s side following the Super Rugby Season to link up with Greg Halford. Tito spent the 2022 season with the Western Force, while Ellison enjoyed a successful Super Rugby campaign with title-winning Crusaders.
The Lions will commence their Premiership competition in Round 1 against Bay of Plenty at Sky Stadium on Sun 7 August at 4:35pm.
The squad is as follows (* denotes uncapped):
1 Iona Apineru, Prop, Petone
2 Asafo Aumua, Hooker, Avalon
3 Dominic Bird, Lock, Upper Hutt RAMS
4 James Blackwell, Lock, Petone
5 Dane Coles, Hooker, Poneke
6 Connor Collins, Halfback, Hutt Old Boys Marist
7 Caleb Delany, Lock, Old Boys University
8 Losi Filipo, Outside, Northern United
9 Jackson Garden-Bachop, First Five, Northern United
10 Connor Garden-Bachop, Outside, Northern United
11 Sione Halalilo, Loose forward, Oriental-Rongotai *
12 Riley Higgins, Midfield, Petone *
13 Richard Judd, Halfback, Paremata-Plimmerton
14 Du'Plessis Kirifi, Loose forward, Northern United
15 Peter Lakai, Loose forward, Petone
16 Ruben Love, Outside, Wainuiomata
17 Nehe Milner-Skudder, Outside *
18 Aidan Morgan, First Five, Marist St Pats
19 Xavier Numia, Prop, Oriental-Rongotai
20 James O'Reilly, Hooker, Hutt Old Boys Marist
21 Pepesana Patafilo, Outside, Tawa
22 TJ Perenara, Halfback, Northern United
23 Taine Plumtree, Loose forward, Old Boys University
24 Billy Proctor, Midfield, Marist St Pats
25 Vince Sakaria, Prop, Marist St Pats
26 Ardie Savea, Loose forward, Oriental-Rongotai
27 Julian Savea, Outside, Oriental-Rongotai
28 PJ Sheck, Prop, Tawa
29 Tietie Tuimauga, Prop, Marist St Pats
30 Josh Toómaga, Lock, Marist St Pats
31 Peter Umaga-Jensen, Midfield, Wainuiomata
32 Keelan Whitman, Loose forward, Marist St Pats