The lads in the Deep South only lose two players to the All Blacks' conditioning programme, but boy, will they miss the duo of Carl Hayman and Anton Oliver. Without the pair, a Highlanders scrum which always gains parity, and occasionally has dominance, looks considerably weaker.
The intangible asset of experience is also lost while Hayman and Oliver are doing their glorified stretches, which makes this Highlanders side look part-youthful, part wide-eyed youngster.
This youthful look is no more obvious than in the centres, where comparative veterans Seilala Mapusua and Neil Brew have departed, leaving new acquisition Aaron Bancroft, the injury-plagued Matt Saunders, the relatively inexperienced Jason Kawau and one-season Highlander Callum Bruce likely to share the midfield duties. The baby-faced appearance of the squad is just one of the problems facing coach Greg Cooper and his assistant coach, Glenn Moore. Their draw for the first few weeks of the competition is, to put it bluntly, a shocker.
An opening-round encounter against the Western Force in Perth is the pre-cursor for a two-match tour of South Africa, switching from a match against the Lions on the high veldt to a sea-level clash against the Sharks the following week.
What makes the trip all the more worse is the six-day turnaround from the Sharks match to a home game against the Stormers. The Highlanders struggled with a similar scenario last year, going down in a lethargic performance at Carisbrook to the Sharks, and Cooper can but only hope the young lads in his side have seemingly unlimited energy to find their way through it.
The bye is nicely placed for the Highlanders almost halfway through the season and four home games in a row (including matches at Invercargill and Queenstown) will be a welcome double bonanza when factoring in the return of Hayman and Oliver following the bye.
Their return at least means the Highlanders will be well-equipped for their final four games against the Super 14 heavyweights - the Crusaders, Waratahs, Hurricanes and Brumbies.
The Highlanders have mostly stuck to their policy of selecting players from within the franchise, although Cooper has recruited wisely in the outside backs, picking up North Harbour speedster Vilame Waqaseduadua and Tasman flyer Luky Mulipola, while 30-year-old 2006 Air New Zealand Cup debutant Greg Zampach was rewarded for his handy form on the wing with selection.
No team likes injuries and Cooper will perhaps be making a silent prayer to the rugby gods that Nick Evans is kept safe from injury, as the team suffered from his absence last season. While Bruce showed glimpses of talent in the 10 jersey, his ANZC season last year indicated he is better suited to 12 and works well in tandem with Evans. Besides, the back up - Charlie Hore - doesn't fill too many Highlanders supporters with confidence.
The back five of the pack will be one strength, with James Ryan undoubtedly keen to keep himself in the All Blacks selectors' minds in World Cup year, although he'll be forming a new partnership, possibly with Kane Thompson or Hoani MacDonald this season with Tom Donnelly unavailable through injury.
The loose forwards are quick. Josh Blackie and Craig Newby will keep all opposition backlines on their toes while keep an eye on young No 8 Ezra Taylor, who is the next big thing around the Dunedin rugby scene.
Up front, a lot will fall on prop Clarke Dermody's shoulders with the absence of Hayman and Oliver for the first half of the season, and he too will be keen to further his cause for the All Blacks World Cup squad with a solid Super 14 season. Is young Southland prop Jamie Mackintosh ready for Super 14 rugby? His scrummaging in last year's Air New Zealand Cup would suggest not.
It's hard to see where the Highlanders' first win will come from, and therein lies the problem. There's a distinct possibility they could be running out to play the Reds on March 9 with only a few bonus points to show for five games. From there, the semi-finals will look an extremly long way away. No-one likes accepting mediocrity, but a mid-table finish of about eighth will be a useful campaign for this side.
Feb 2 - v Force at Perth
Feb 11 - v Lions at Johannesburg
Feb 18 - v Sharks at Durban
Feb 24 - v Stormers at Dunedin
Mar 2 - v Blues at Auckland
Mar 9 - v Reds at Dunedin
Mar 24 - v Bulls at Dunedin
Mar 30 - v Cheetahs at Invercargill
Apr 7 - v Chiefs at Queenstown
Apr 14 - v Crusaders at Dunedin
Apr 21 - v Waratahs at Sydney
Apr 27 - v Hurricanes at Wellington
May 5 - v Brumbies at Dunedin
Forwards - Alando Soakai, Anton Oliver, Carl Hayman, Chris King, Clarke Dermody Craig Newby, David Hall, Ezra Taylor, Filipo Levi, Hale T-Pole, Hoani MacDonald, James Ryan, Jamie Mackintosh, Jason MacDonald, Josh Blackie, Kane Thompson, Keith Cameron.
Backs - Aaron Bancroft, Callum Bruce, Charlie Hore, Craig Clare, Glen Horton, Greg Zampach, Jason Kawau, Jimmy Cowan, Lucky Mulipola, Matt Saunders, Nick Evans, Toby Morland, Vilame Waqaseduadua.