Wellington Lions Announce 2022 NPC Bunnings Squad

Wellington Lions director of rugby Leo Crowley has named his 32-man squad for the upcoming 2022 Bunnings Warehouse NPC.

With a mix of youth and experience, the squad includes eight players who 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 U20 midfielder Riley Higgins as part of a new generation of talented youngsters from Wellington looking to make their mark in provincial rugby. Petone loosie Peter Lakai and MSP lock Josh Toómaga join the team full-time after debuting in 2021.

“Peter and Riley are both talented young men. We are delighted to recognize them as full-time Lions. We look forward to their continued development, and I’m sure they will start running and are excited to step onto the pitch in the Lions shirt.

“Like the others, Josh has truly earned his place in the team. What Josh brings is a real physicality to his role. His aggressive approach will be a great addition for us.

Following long-term injuries – Tawa’s Pepesana Patafilo and two-yard lock Dom Bird return to the side, having spent time on the touchlines at the start of 2022.

Iona Apineru returns for a second season, having gone from No. 8 to hard-headed prop in the offseason.

World Cup winner 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 after the Major League Rugby final in the United States. He spent pre-season in the Hurricanes camp, so he already has a good connection with a lot of guys. It will fit perfectly and bring a wealth of knowledge,” Crowley said.

Now in his third season at the helm, Crowley looks forward to the upcoming NPC campaign.

“I am delighted with the caliber of players we have this season. There’s plenty of fresh energy to complement the seasoned players, and we’re looking forward to the season kicking off.

While the team has now been officially named, Crowley remains optimistic about new opportunities for regional players to get involved.

“The selection process was difficult, but I’m happy with the team as a whole. There are a few boys from clubland who have missed out but with the season, 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 upon to play for the Lions at some point in the season,” Crowley said.

The Lions coaching staff will remain the same. Tamati Ellison and Paul Tito return alongside Crowley after the Super Rugby season to join Greg Halford. Tito spent the 2022 season with the Western Force, while Ellison enjoyed a successful Super Rugby campaign with the title-winning Crusaders.

The Lions begin their Premiership competition in the first leg against Bay of Plenty at the Sky Stadium on Sunday August 7 at 4.35pm.

The squad is as follows (* indicates uncapped):

1 Iona Apineru, Props Man, Petone
2 Asafo Aumua, prostitute, 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, Away, United North
9 Jackson Garden-Bachop, top five, northern US
10 Connor Garden-Bacho, Away, Northern USA
11 Sione Halalilo, Free Forward, Oriental-Rongotai*
12 Riley Higgins, Midfielder, Petone*
13 Richard Judd, half-back, Paremata-Plimmerton
14 Du’Plessis Kirifi, Free Forward, Northern United
15 Peter Lakai, Free Forward, Petone
16 Ruben Love, Outside, Wainuiomata
17 Nehe Milner-Skudder, exterior *
18 Aidan Morgan, top five, Marist St Pats
19 Xavier Numia, Props Designer, Oriental-Rongotai
20 James O’Reilly, Hooker, Hutt Old Boys Marist
21 Pepesana Patafilo, Outside, Tawa
22 TJ Perenara, Half-back, Northern United
23 Taine Plumtree, free forward, Old Boys University
24 Billy Proctor, Midfielder, Marist St Pats
25 Vince Sakaria, prop, Marist St Pats
26 Ardie Savea, Free Forward, Oriental-Rongotai
27 Julian Savea, Exterior, Oriental-Rongotai
28 PJ Sheck, accessory, Tawa
29 Tietie Tuimauga, accessory, Marist St Pats
30 Josh Toómaga, Lock, Marist St Pats
31 Peter Umaga-Jensen, midfielder, Wainuiomata
32 Keelan Whitman, free forward, Marist St Pats

Charles P. Patton