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Luke Whitelock steps up for ITM champions

Loose forward Luke Whitelock will have his own reasons for attempting to ensure Canterbury's dominance of the ITM Cup continues this year.

Named as captain of the side announced by coach Scott Robertson, Whitelock will follow in the footsteps of brother George who was at the helm of Canterbury's on-going success in New Zealand's domestic competition.

The 34-cap player who is from the University club has only two team members with more experience in the red and black hoops this year, wing Patrick Osborne and wing Johnny McNicholl.

But caps are one thing, experience is another and back to play first five-eighths is Cameron McIntyre, who left New Zealand after the 2006 season having played 25 Super Rugby games for the Crusaders (16) and the Highlanders (9). Initially he played for Castres in France, in 113 games, but then in Japan where he had two seasons with the NEC Green Rockets and three seasons with Toyota Verblitz.

New faces have been included to complement the experienced core in the side.

Robertson, the coach of the world championship-winning New Zealand Under-20 side this year, said: "We're blessed with some fantastic experience in our squad and that is going to be well balanced this year with some keen and talented new players joining our group for 2015.

"That includes three players who were involved in the New Zealand Under-20s, backs Nathaniel Apa and Jack Goodhue and forward Mitch Dunshea."

Recruits from Australia also feature in the side, Rowland-Keni Kotobalavu Jr and Benjamin Matwijow. The latter has been part of the Western Force at Super Rugby level while Kotobalavu has been a stand-out on the wing in schools rugby.

Among local newcomers is wing Tulolo Tulolo who dominated try-scoring with the New Brighton club during the season. Marshall Suckling has returned after two seasons in Otago while Jack Stratton, a Crusaders Wider Training Group member this year, will provide cover for Andy Ellis while he is on All Blacks duty.

New Zealand Universities hooker Nick Werahiko, Canterbury Maoris' player of the year last season, will cover for Codie Taylor while he is on All Blacks duty.

Canterbury's season opens on August 15 against Otago in Dunedin. However, they have warm-up games against Wellington in the Capital on Friday and Counties Manukau in Pukekohe on August 7.

The squad is (games in brackets): Nathaniel Apa (5), Dominic Bird (21), Jed Brown (15), Mitchell Drummond (12), Mitchell Dunshea (0), Sione Faletau (7), Ben Funnell (34), Jack Goodhue (5), Alex Hodgman (9), Milford Keresoma (15), Rowland-Keni Kotobalavu Jr (0), Daniel Lienert-Brown (4), Cameron McIntyre (31), Johnny McNicholl (36), JJ Manning (6), Ben Matwijow (0), Richie Mo'unga (18), Patrick Osborne (37), Reed Prinsep (2), Tom Sanders (8), Jack Stratton (0), Marshall Suckling (0), Tom Taylor (30), Rob Thompson (21), Siate Tokolahi (7), Tulolo Tulolo (0), Nick Werahiko (0), Luke Whitelock (34).