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ITM Cup Preview: North Harbour v Manawatu

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Saturday, September 25, 2010    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: North Harbour Stadium, Albany, Sunday September 26, 14.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 11 – North Harbour 10, Manawatu 1.

LAST TIME: October 24, 2009 (Palmerston North) – Manawatu 42-16 North Harbour.

LAST TIME AT VENUE: September 2, 2007 – North Harbour 34-16 Manawatu.

MATCH ODDS: NZ TAB (Tuesday): North Harbour $1.22, Manawatu $4.00.

WALKING WOUNDED: Apart from juggling their three very good locks, North Harbour have made no changes from last week. Manawatu also shows one change, with James Oliver replacing Doug Tietjens on the side of the scrum. Sevens rep Tomasi Cama is back on the bench after recovering from an eye-socket fracture.

FORM:

PAST FIVE North Harbour:
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)
Round 8: Beat Tasman 28-21

PAST FIVE Manawatu:
Round 4: Lost to Counties-Manukau 14-35
Round 5: Lost to Hawke’s Bay 9-17
Round 6: Beat Wellington 36-24
Round 7: Lost to Bay of Plenty 13-41
Round 8: Lost to Auckland 6-32

After some solid defeats in recent weeks, North Harbour played quite well in the pouring Nelson rain and turned in one of their more accurate displays of the year. Although it looks close on paper, the visitors had the match under control from some way out and looked likely winners for most of it. Manawatu held Auckland for the first hour before gradually giving way to relentless pressure, although the final score was blown out by three Auckland tries in the last seven minutes. That said, Auckland always looked the more likely winners throughout the second spell and deserved the points. The biggest problem for both sides is stopping the opposition scoring points; they rank 13th and 14th for points conceded this year and there’s a big gap back to No 12.

WHO'S HOT: Mike Harris is becoming one of the more influential first-fives in the competition and he rarely turns in an ordinary display. His excellent kicking, both from hand and for goal, is augmented by a clever running game. Anthony Boric should respond well to the game time he’s getting with Harbour and look for him to play a significant role in the tight. Nafi Tuitavake is a dangerous finisher who just needs a little ball and space to be a threat. Veteran Manawatu hooker Rob Foreman can be relied on to deliver a strong game each week, busy in the loose and strong in the tight. Aaron Smith is having a good season at halfback, while Francis Bryant has quickly returned to being the midfield rock he was before that long injury layoff.

WE THINK: Although North Harbour hasn’t played particularly well in 2010, they should still be good enough to win this match. Manawatu has traditionally struggled with Harbour and we see this match as no different; depending on the weather there could be 10-15 points in it at the end.

TEAMS:

North Harbour: 1. James Afoa, 2. James Parsons, 3. Ben Afeaki, 4. Anthony Boric, 5. Filo Paulo, 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. James King, 19. Richard Mayhew, 20. Grayson Hart, 21. Ben Botica, 22. Brendon Watt.

Manawatu: 1. Donal McNamara, 2. Rob Foreman, 3. Ma’afu Fia, 4. Michael Fitzgerald, 5. Fraser Stone, 6. James Oliver, 7. Callum Gibbins, 8. Hamish Gosling, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Isaac Thompson, 11. Casey Stone, 12. Frank Bryant (captain), 13. Hadleigh Parkes, 14. Shannon Paku, 15. Craig Clare.

Reserves: 16. Sean O’Connor, 17. Karl Haitana, 18. Reece Robinson, 19. Bertus Mulder, 20. Karl Bryson, 21. Tomasi Cama, 22. Lote Raikabula.

REFEREE: Richard Kelly