Wallabies backrower Ned Hanigan will make his return from injury this Friday night, named in the Waratahs' first trial.
Hanigan, named on the bench, is one of three Wallabies squad members in the extended team, with Curtis Rona to start on the wing and Tom Robertson also in the reserves.
The 22-year-old hasn't played since injuring his knee on last year's Spring Tour, while playing for the Wallabies against England.
Former Force rookie Alex Newsome will have the first crack on the left wing, after joining the Waratahs, with Rona on the right and new recruit Lalakai Fekitoa at 13.
Hooker Damien Fitzpatrick will captain the side, in their third consecutive preseason match up against the Highlanders.
The Highlanders clash is the first of two full preseason trials for the Waratahs, with the other against the Rebels at Brookvale Oval on February 15.
“These matches provide us with the opportunity to test combinations while at the same time give the players who have completed the majority of pre-season the opportunity to perform and build our team identity," he said.
"All the players have been super in their approach and deserve an opportunity.
Gibson is keen to see the rookies have a hitout ,after a gruelling preseason, with the trans-Tasman clash a litmus test for some of the changes they've had in the preseason.
"Friday night’s game will give us an excellent assessment on where we are at in our preparation cycle," he said.
“I have made it very clear to the team that 2018 is about delivering on our potential, performing and being at our best.
"The young players are hungry to push for a regular spot in the starting line-up, which creates healthy competition in the squad."
The Waratahs take on the Highlanders on Friday February 2, kicking off at 6pm local, 4pm AEDT.
Waratahs to face Highlanders
1. Paddy Ryan
2. Damien Fitzpatrick (c)
3. Harry Johnson-Holmes
4. Nick Palmer
5. Tom Staniforth
6. Brad Wilkin
7. Will Miller
8. Michael Wells
9. Jake Gordon
10. Mack Mason
11. Alex Newsome
12. Irae Simone
13. Lalakai Foketi
14. Curtis Rona
15. Andrew Kellaway