If ever there were a perfect representation of how brutal Super Rugby Aotearoa has been this year, it’s the Highlanders’ ever-increasing list of injured players.

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New recruits Jermaine Ainsley and Fetuli Paea were sidelined before the season even kicked off after suffering injuries during the Highlanders’ warm-up matches earlier this year.

Former All Black Liam Squire, who made his return to Super Rugby this year, lasted just two weeks before he too was invalided and since his injury, the Highlanders have been dropping like flies.

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Up-and-coming stars Folau Fakatava, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Freedom Vahaakolo and Connor Garden-Bachop were all struck down in quick succession and now the Highlanders have lost another All Blacks hopeful, with Hawke’s Bay loose forward Marino Mikaele-Tu’u set to miss the rest of the Super Rugby campaign after suffering a stress fracture in his leg.

“Marino’s out for the season,” Head coach Tony Brown said following the naming of the Highlanders team to take on the Hurricanes this Friday.

“It’s a bit consistent with the rest of our guys, we’re losing two guys a week on average at the moment so [it’s] a big disappointment for him but hopefully he can come back and have another good Mitre 10 Cup [NPC].”

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Utility back Ngatungane Punivai is also set to spend some time on the sidelines but is expected back for the Trans-Tasman competition which kicks off in a few weeks’ time. It’s a similar story for lock Pari Pari Parkinson, who made three appearances for the Highlanders this year after coming back from a horrific foot injury suffered in last year’s campaign.

In better news, Canterbury wing Sam Gilbert is fit and ready to fire, being named in the No 14 jersey for Friday night’s match. Gilbert was a injury replacement for the Highlanders in last year’s competition but soon after ruptured his ACL.

“He had a small intro to Highlanders rugby last year but he made a great impression on the organisation so looking forward to seeing him go again and hopefully he can stay injury-free and finish our season well,” said Brown.

“He’s a pretty solid boy. Maybe around 105 and with the knee injury, you tend to do a lot of training and you’re just waiting to get back on the field and he’s ready to go. He’s played a couple of club games and I’m sure he’s excited to get back out there.”

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No replacements have been called into the squad for Mikaele-Tu’u as yet, with Brown suggesting that the team will regroup ahead of the Highlanders’ match with the Reds in the coming weeks.

“We’ll get through this game and see who survives the Hurricanes game,” he said, “and then we’ll fill those spots leading into the trans-Tasman comp.”

The Highlanders’ match against the Hurricanes kicks off at 7:05pm NZT on Friday evening.

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