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ITM Cup Preview: Counties Manukau v Tasman

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 1 – Counties-Manukau 0, Tasman 1. LAST TIME: August 16, 2009 (Nelson) – Tasman 51-15 Counties-Manukau. LAST TIME AT VENUE: These teams have not met at Pukekohe before. WALKING WOUNDED: Counties-Manukau will be pleased to have Tana Umaga and Baden Kerr back in the lineup this week, while there has been a shuffle in the loose forwards where Ronald Raaymakers starts at blindside and Fritz Lee moves back to No 8. Tasman will be bolstered by the return of Ben Franks from All Black duty but will miss skipper Chris Jack in the engine room. The only backline change sees Blair Cook start on the wing ahead of Afeleki Pelenise. FORM: PAST FIVE: Counties-Manukau Round 1: Beat Otago 29-13 Round 2: Beat Wellington 31-25 Round 3: Lost to Southland 9-13 (RS) Round 4: Beat Manawatu 35-14 Round 5: Lost to Waikato 3-39 PAST FIVE: Tasman Round 1: Lost to Wellington 11-20 Round 2: Lost to Taranaki 11-33 Round 3: Beat Hawke's Bay 21-7 Round 4: Beat Canterbury 27-25 Round 5: Lost to Southland 16-21 Both sides are middle of the table, with Counties-Manukau at the upper end of a group on three wins and Tasman just off the back end of that bunch. The Steelers began the season in fine form, winning three of four and putting up a rugged Shield challenge, but it all turned to custard last week at Hamilton when a second-half collapse saw Waikato run in 32 unanswered points. That performance was out of character for Milton Haig's men, who have no doubt heard about it at training this week. Tasman began slowly but has steadily improved, claiming good wins over Hawke's Bay and Canterbury before finding Southland a little too tough last week. The Makos tried hard all night but simply couldn't break down Southland's defence, while penalties at their own end of the ground were killers. Both sides have shown directness on attack that will trouble any defence, and normally offer a defence that's a challenge for attacking sides to break down. WHO'S HOT: The less said about the Steelers second-half performance at Hamilton the better, although the side did suffer from late injury disruptions. Up front Simon Lemalu is having a good season and he offers stability at scrum time as well as surprising mobility in the loose. August Pulu appeals as a halfback on the rise, while Siale Piutau is a player who needs to be watched closely at all times. Ben Coman played strongly in his first outing of the year and got through a power of hard work in both tight and loose. Kade Poki is doing some good things at centre and is reliable on defence while Blair Cook, who looked good off the bench last week, has an interesting night ahead as he battles with the Counties flyers down the wings. WE THINK: This result will be determined by which Steelers team shows up. If it's the side from the first four weeks Tasman has a real challenge on its hands, but the team that played at Hamilton wouldn't be much of a test. We think it will be the former, so an excellent match is in prospect, but we like Tasman's improved recent form enough to tip the visitors by five to ten points.. TEAMS: Counties-Manukau: 1. Simon Lemalu, 2. Grant Henson, 3. Jono Owen, 4. Taiasina Tuifua, 5. Jamie Chipman (captain), 6. Ronald Raaymakers, 7. Pepa Kolomatangi, 8. Fritz Lee, 9. August Pulu, 10. Baden Kerr, 11. Sherwin Stowers, 12. Tana Umaga, 13. Siale Piutau, 14. Ahsee Tuala, 15. Tim Nanai-Williams. Reserves: 16. Mark Price, 17. Graham Dewes, 18. Sikeli Nabou, 19. Mark Selwyn, 20. Samisoni Fisilau, 21. Reynold Lee-Lo, 22. David Raikuna. Tasman: 1. Fai Mika, 2. Francis Smith, 3. Ben Franks, 4. Glen Gregory, 5. Ben Coman, 6. Poutasi Luafutu, 7. Jonathan Poff, 8. Joseph Wheeler, 9. Steve Alfeld, 10. James Marshall, 11. James Kamana, 12. Tom Marshall, 13. Kade Poki, 14. Blair Cook, 15. Robbie Malneek. Reserves: 16. Vernon Fredericks, 17. Craig Moore, 18. Jarrod Aberhart, 19. Shane Christie, 20. Kaide Whiting, 21. Sione Holani, 22. Afeleki Pelenise. REFEREE: Kane McBride