Queensland Reds captain Samu Kerevi is excited about all five of his debutants to face the Highlanders in Dunedin but derives extra satisfaction from the Super Rugby arrival of Isaac Lucas.
New skipper Kerevi will lead the youthful Reds into a daunting first-up fixture on Friday after they sat out an opening-round bye last week.
The Highlanders are unbeaten at Forsyth Barr for 15 straight matches and no Reds team have won on New Zealand soil since 2013, which was the last time they reached the play-offs.
The Wallabies midfield back leads a team which, like last season, will rely on energy to overcome a lack of experience.
Prop Feao Fotuaika makes an unlikely debut after bursting out of club rugby while outside back recruits Sefa Naivalu (Rebels) and Bryce Hegarty (Waratahs) are also in the starting team.
The bench features two potential debutants in backrower Fraser McReight and highly-skilled utility back Lucas, who provides more reason for his rugby-mad family to rejoice.
Oldest brother Ben Lucas was a long-serving Reds utility back now based in Montpellier while former Waratahs halfback Matt Lucas is pushing for a Brumbies starting berth this season.
Third brother Tom Lucas hasn’t played Super Rugby but has captained the Australian sevens team.
Kerevi said he had followed the fortunes of Isaac in the Brisbane club scene and said he knew the 20-year-old would make his mark at a higher level.
“Obviously his brothers have come through the line and he’s the fourth brother, the youngest as well, and I’ve always said he’s probably the best,” Kerevi said.
“And he’s been training the house down, along with Fraser.”
Kerevi hopes the Reds can carry their form forward from the end of last season when handsome home wins over the Rebels and Sunwolves in their last two games left them with a 6-10 record and 13th place.
It could have been better were it not for a grinding 18-15 mid-season loss to the Highlanders in Brisbane, when Lima Sopoaga landed a late penalty for the visitors.
Highlanders assistant coach Glenn Delaney expects another muscular contest against a team shaped very much around the no-nonsense methods of Thorn.
“Thorny will have them licking their lips at the collision and all the contact stuff,” Delaney said.
“They’re probably a side who will start to represent his personality.
“And they’ve got a fantastic scrum. Taniela Tupou, he charges from tighthead and he likes to run around as well.”