WELLINGTON - A couple of crowd favourites make way but otherwise the core of the Chiefs squad who secured a maiden Super Rugby title in 2012 have been retained for next year.
Coach Dave Rennie has retained 22 players in announcing his 32-man squad on Wednesday, with former All Blacks lock Ross Filipo the most surprising of the four recruits picked up in player draft negotiations on Tuesday.
Filipo, 33, has returned from a stint in Europe and showed enough form in the NPC for Wellington to earn a draft contract along with Canterbury winger Patrick Osborne and two young front-rowers — Wellington prop Solomona Sakalia and Taranaki hooker Rhys Marshall.
Rennie's big-name departures are outstanding All Blacks inside centre Sonny Bill Williams to Japanese club rugby and French-bound prop Sona Taumalolo, whose nine tries this year were a record for a Super Rugby forward.
Others not returning are wingers Maritano Nemani and Declan O'Donnell, centre Jackson Willison, loose forwards Alex Bradley and Scott Waldrom and prop Shane Cleaver.
Off-season signings already announced are Hurricanes outside back Charlie Ngatai, Blues five-eighth Gareth Anscombe and Highlanders flanker Nick Crosswell.
Three other squad members — inside centre Bundee Aki, halfback August Pulu and prop Josh Hohneck — were part of the wider training squad last season, with Pulu and Hohneck earning game time.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs have confirmed their schedule of eight home matches, which includes six at Hamilton's Waikato Stadium.
Tauranga will host the March 30 fixture against the Blues while Pukekohe will host the Western Force on May 10.
There will be a pre-season match against the Highlanders in Taupo on February 2.
Backs: Robbie Robinson, Tim Nanai-Williams, Lelia Masaga, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Patrick Osborne, Andrew Horrell, Richard Kahui, Charlie Ngatai, Bundee Aki, Aaron Cruden, Gareth Anscombe, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Brendon Leonard, Augustine Pulu
Forwards: Fritz Lee, Tanerau Latimer, Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Nick Crosswell, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke, Romana Graham, Mike Fitzgerald, Ross Filipo, Ben Afeaki, Toby Smith, Ben Tameifuna, Josh Hohneck, Solomona Sakalia, Mahonri Schwalger, Hika Elliot, Rhys Marshall