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ITM Cup Preview: Tasman v North Harbour

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Friday, September 17, 2010    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Trafalgar Park, Nelson, Saturday September 18, 19.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 2 – Tasman 1, North Harbour 1.

LAST TIME: August 7, 2009 (Albany) – North Harbour 15-19 Tasman.

LAST TIME AT VENUE: These teams have not previously met at Nelson.

MATCH ODDS: NZ TAB (Tuesday): Tasman $1.75, North Harbour $2.00.

WALKING WOUNDED: Tasman has made several changes, with most being optional after a disappointing performance against Otago. Regulars Francis Smith, Poutasi Luafutu, Blair Cook and Robbie Malneek are all wearing high numbers this week, with Jack Umaga in the midfield and Tom Marshall handed the fullback position. North Harbour skipper Michael Reid is ruled out of this game with a toe injury and Richard Mayhew gets a week off to rest a number of niggles, but Tom Chamberlain and Anthony Boric are both available and Criag Dowd had no hesitation putting them back in the starting lineup.

FORM:

PAST FIVE Tasman:
Round 3: Beat Hawke's Bay 21-7
Round 4: Beat Canterbury 27-25
Round 5: Lost to Southland 16-21
Round 6: Lost to Counties-Manukau 3-23
Round 7: Lost to Otago 11-13

PAST FIVE North Harbour:
Round 3: Lost to Canterbury 22-44
Round 4: Beat Otago 35-23
Round 5: Lost to Bay of Plenty 29-39
Round 6: Lost to Waikato 27-36
Round 7: Lost to Southland 21-47 (RS)

Tasman had a hot spell about a month ago, beating both Hawke's Bay and Canterbury, but since then the Makos have fallen right away. They went close against Southland, got done by the Steelers and, to be blunt, any team that couldn't beat a very moderate Otago side last Sunday deserves to be down the bottom of the ladder. Tasman had many more chances but some poor finishing and indifferent goal-kicking let too many of them get away. North Harbour was once again lit up by its opposition, this time Southland, as the Stags ran in seven tries on the way to a comprehensive win. Although North Harbour scored three tries, its fragile midfield defence was broken open time and again and the Stage were always clearing out. If Harbour can't stop teams piling up big totals – they've won the only two games where their opposition scored less than 36 – it's a long season in front of them.

WHO'S HOT: Chris Jack led Tasman from the front and it was a piece of alert following-up on his part that gave the makos their only try last week. The Marshall brothers have been quiet in midfield recently but one suspects they're going to find a lot more running room this week and could be very dangerous. Blair Cook is a good winger but he has seen little usable ball recently. James King is having another good year in the Harbour engine room and his aerial work is first-class. Mike Harris is one player who is having a consistent season in the North Harbour backline and his recent running form has caught defences on the hop. Nafi Tuitavake looked dangerous when given a chance last week and scored an excellent try but he, like his colleagues, spent too much of the day chasing disappearing Southlanders down the field.

WE THINK: Tasman gave their worst display of the season against Otago and there's plenty of room for improvement, while Harbour's Shield challenge was another of a series of disappointing efforts. We'll go for Tasman to win here, by 10-15 points if they concentrate, because they can play far better than they did a week ago.

TEAMS:

Tasman: 1. Fai Mika, 2. Vernon Fredericks, 3. Hamish Cochrane, 4. Glen Gregory, 5. Chris Jack (captain), 6. Jonathan Poff, 7. Shane Christie, 8. Joseph Wheeler, 9. Steve Alfeld, 10. James Marshall, 11. James Kamana, 12. Jack Umaga, 13. Kade Poki, 14. Afeleki Pelenise, 15. Tom Marshall.

Reserves: 16. Francis Smith, 17. Craig Moore, 18. Anthony Elisala, 19. Poutasi Luafutu, 20. Kaide Whiting, 21. Blair Cook, 22. Robbie Malneek.

North Harbour: 1. James Afoa, 2. James Parsons, 3. Ben Afeaki, 4. James King, 5. Anthony Boric, 6. Tom Chamberlain, 7. Malakai Ravulo, 8. Matt Luamanu, 9. Chris Smylie (captain), 10. Mike Harris, 11. Nafi Tuitavake, 12. Luke McAlister, 13. Jack Tarrant, 14. Ken Pisi, 15. Jack McPhee.

Reserves: 16. Manu Leiataua, 17. Taione Vea, 18. Filo Paulo, 19. Scott Uren, 20. Nalu Tuigamala, 21. Ben Botica, 22. Brendon Watt.

REFEREE: Shane McDermott