The Highlanders have announced their side to take on the Reds on Friday, with Aaron Smith included in the starting team for the Super Rugby game.
Smith will start at scrum-half and after a solid first-up showing, Josh Ioane retains the number 10 jersey with Marty Banks on the bench.
Teihorangi Walden will resume his centre partnership with Rob Thompson while All Black Waisake Naholo replaces Matt Faddes on the wing.
Jackson Hemopo moves to lock for the home fixture in Dunedin as he makes way for Shannon Frizell on the blindside flank. Dillon Hunt replaces James Lentjes at openside flanker and Marino Mikaele Tu’u, who can play all three loose forward positions, is named among the replacements.
Jack Whetton could make his Super Rugby debut off the bench on Friday.
“The Reds will bring a lot of energy and physicality to the encounter, history shows it’s always a tough game for us. The team is excited to be at home in front of our own fans for the first time this season, no doubt the players will draw some energy from their support,” said head coach Aaron Mauger.
Queensland Reds head coach Brad Thorn has named his first team for the 2019 Super Rugby season ahead of Friday’s match against the Highlanders in Dunedin.
Three players will make their Queensland debut this week in New Zealand, with Souths prop Feao Fotuaika and new recruits Sefa Naivalu and Bryce Hegarty named in the Reds’ starting XV.
Meanwhile, Queensland pathway products – back-rower Fraser McReight and utility back Isaac Lucas – are potentially set to make their Queensland and Super Rugby debuts after being included on the bench.
The Reds backline boasts 262 games of Super Rugby experience, with five Wallabies selected in the forward pack.
After being handed the 2019 captaincy, Samu Kerevi will lead the Reds and will have the support of Izack Rodda as vice-captain.
Thorn said: “The guys are excited to be in Super Rugby mode and are ready to rip in on Friday night. As a group, we congratulate all the new men on their Queensland selection.
“Feao is a feel-good story. He was out-of-shape and on the verge of giving up the game. We identified him playing club rugby last year and his transformation since has been something to admire. Between Brynley Abad (strength and conditioning head coach) and Cameron Liliicrap (scrum coach), Feao has dropped 16 kilos in the pre-season and his scrummaging is now very dominant.
“It’s good to see two young guys like Fraser and Isaac come through the Queensland pathway and progress their rugby to the next level. They’ve really impressed us during the pre-season and have been rewarded for their hard work.
“Bryce has been rock-solid since joining us. He offers versatility in the backline and is a great communicator, while we’re excited to see Sefa show off his skills for the first time in a maroon jersey. The two of them bring good experience and have been great around the group.
“The Highlanders are a quality team. It’s tough to win in Dunedin, so we’ll need to be at our best and execute what we’ve worked on.”
Average score: Highlanders 29 Reds 23
Last five results
Sat, 26 May 2018 Highlanders 18-15 Reds – Brisbane
Fri, 14 Jul 2017 Highlanders 40-17 Reds – Dunedin
Sat, 09 Apr 2016 Highlanders 27-28 Reds – Brisbane
Fri, 27 Feb 2015 Highlanders 20-13 Reds – Dunedin
Fri, 30 May 2014 Highlanders 31-38 Reds – Brisbane
Highlanders overall record against the Reds
Played 22, Wins 12 , Losses 10, Draws 0
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (cc), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (cc), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Matt Faddes
Reds: 15 Bryce Hegarty, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Jordan Petaia, 12 Samu Kerevi (c), 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Hamish Stewart, 9 Moses Sorovi, 8 Caleb Timu, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Feao Fotuaika
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Fraser McReight, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Isaac Lucas
Date: Friday, February 22
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), James Doleman (New Zealand)
Television match official: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)