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The Highlanders add to their exciting young core with three signings

By Kim Ekin
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The Highlanders have signed two experienced Super Rugby campaigners and an exciting young outside back to further the rebuild of their roster in 2024.

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Perhaps the most exciting signing is Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, the 21-year-old has shown flashes of X-factor throughout his young career, which has seen him involved with the NRL’s Paramatta Eels, the All Blacks Sevens and Taranaki in the NPC in addition to his three seasons with the Blues.

With the likes of Caleb Clarke, Mark Telea, Stephen Perofeta, Zarn Sullivan and AJ Lam all vying for minutes in the Blues’ back three, Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens had struggled to find game time during his stint in Auckland but is likely to find more opportunity with the Highlanders.

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“For me it’s exciting to join such a proud club who I believe have an exciting future,” Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens said in a statement. “They appear to have a great mix of youth and experience down there and I’m keen to add what I’ve learned from my time with the Blues to the group in Dunedin.”

Joining Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens is Crusaders lock and former All Blacks squad member Mitchell Dunshea. The Canterbury product has spent his career to date behind Scott Barrett and Sam Whitelock and after another injury-riddled season, is looking forward to contributing to his new side on the field.

“I’m absolutely looking forward to the opportunity to head south and tear into it with the Landers. It appears to be an exciting time to be involved with a good blend of new and experienced players in the squad. Personally, I just can’t wait to get stuck into some footy”.

The third player is former Chiefs and Crusaders loose forward Tom Sanders. The former Super Rugby champion will return from a two-year contract in Japan to join the Dunedin-based franchise.

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Head Coach Clarke Dermody and the Highlanders are shaping a young roster and are excited to be adding to that potential as well as bringing in some experienced heads to lead the group.

“We have farewelled quite a few players from this season’s squad and ushered in a number of our younger players,” Dermody said. “It’s good to get some balance with some experienced professionals like Tom and Mitch. They very much fit the profile of the type of forwards we are looking for, with an uncompromising attitude and good work rate.  Jacob, while still quite young, has been in a good environment for a few seasons now and there has been some genuine speed and excitement shown in his performances.

“I would like to think that all three players will make a significant contribution to our team, and with solid game time, move their careers forward while at the Highlanders.”

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