Canterbury are set to again be strong contenders for the Mitre 10 Cup this year after unveiling a 37-man squad on Wednesday that oozes depth and experience.

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A total of 25 players have Super Rugby experience, 22 of whom were involved in the Crusaders’ successful Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign to some degree this year.

On top of that, co-coaches Reuben Thorne and Mark Brown have named nine All Blacks, who should be available for at least some action this season with the international calendar still up in the air, while All Blacks Sevens star Andrew Knewstubb has also been included.

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Knewstubb made his debut for Canterbury last week in their 71-7 Ranfurly Shield defence victory over North Otago in Christchurch, as did Crusaders flyer Manasa Matele, who joins the province after switching from Taranaki.

Both players loom as key figures in Canterbury’s challenge to claim the Mitre 10 Cup title for the first time since 2017, which Thorne said will be a source of motivation for his squad.

“Representing your province and doing them proud is motivation enough, but when you add in the fact that it has been [three] years since we last held the Mitre 10 Cup trophy, I’m sure that’ll add a little extra motivation too,” he said in a statement.

“To have the All Blacks available this year is a really special opportunity, whether we have them for one week or ten weeks, we will look to take full advantage of their experience.

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“If it’s on the park, great, but just having them around the group will be a massive benefit for our young guys, who will no doubt be relied upon a fair bit during this year’s campaign.”

While having the experience of international stars will give his side a boost, Brown said he is eager to see what the squad’s youngsters, such as Tom Christie, Cullen Grace, Dallas McLeod and Ngane Punivai, can provide.

“I thought they all handled their opportunities really well and already we can see the differences in those guys,” Brown said of those players, who all performed admirably in their debut Super Rugby campaigns.

“They’ve all grown a bit, both physically and rugby wise too.”

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Crusaders assistant coach Mark Jones and Canterbury Academy and U19 boss Grant Keenan have joined Thorne and Brown in the coaching ranks as assistants.

“Jonesy is in charge of our attack, something that he’s really passionate about, he’s got a wealth of knowledge in that space and coming from Wales he has a slightly different approach to the game too, which is exciting,” Thorne said.

“Grant, having been the Under 19 coach for the past few years and also in charge of running the Academy, has some really well established relationships with some of the younger guys, so this will be a big help to our overall campaign.”

Canterbury will kick-off their Mitre 10 Cup campaign next Friday in the competition-opener against North Harbour in Albany, before putting the Ranfurly Shield up for grabs against Taranaki in Christchurch a week later.

Canterbury Mitre 10 Cup squad for 2020:

Harrison Allen, Finlay Brewis, George Bridge, Brodie McAlister, Fergus Burke, Brett Cameron, Tom Christie, Sam Darry, Luke Donaldson, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Dunshea, Ereatara Enari, Braydon Ennor, Chay Fihaki, Cullen Grace, Billy Harmon, Oliver Jager, Shilo Klein, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Manasa Mataele, Josh McKay, Dallas McLeod, Scott Mellow, Joe Moody, Richie Mo’unga, Fletcher Newell, Andrew Knewstubb, Rameka Poihipi, Reed Prinsep, Isaiah Punivai, Ngatungane Punivai, Luke Romano, Tom Sanders, Codie Taylor, Samuel Whitelock, Tamaiti Williams.

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