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ITM Cup Preview: Counties Manukau v Northland

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

VENUE & TIME: Growers Stadium, Pukekohe, Sunday September 26, 16.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 78 – Counties-Manukau 24, Northland 50, drawn 4.

LAST TIME: September 10, 2009 (Whangarei) – Northland 21-37 Counties-Manukau.

LAST TIME AT VENUE: July 21, 2007 – Counties-Manukau 28-17 Northland (non-championship).

MATCH ODDS: NZ TAB (Tuesday): Counties-Manukau $2.00, Northland $1.75.

WALKING WOUNDED: Counties-Manukau showed a number of changes, with the possibility of more. There are two brackets in the team named, while Viliami Fihaki, August Pulu, Tana Umaga and David Raikuna return to the starting XV. In each case the man replaced is on the bench. Northland shows two changes; a fit-again Aaron Bancroft returns at second-five, while Simon Munro is on the bench after a month on the sideline.

FORM:

PAST FIVE Counties-Manukau:
Round 4: Beat Manawatu 35-14
Round 5: Lost to Waikato 3-39
Round 6: Beat Tasman 23-3
Round 7: Lost to Taranaki 19-28
Round 8: Lost to Bay of Plenty 21-24

PAST FIVE Northland:
Round 4: Lost to Auckland 13-26
Round 5: Lost to Wellington 28-31
Round 6: Beat Southland 33-22
Round 7: Lost to Canterbury 23-27
Round 8: Beat Otago 13-8

This promises to be one of the closest matches of the weekend, featuring two teams close together on the ladder and very similar in playing style who also have similar won two-lost three records in the last month. Northland finally ground out a win in a close match last weekend while Couties-Manukau fell in the 80th minute to a Mike Delany try, but there was a lot to like in both performances. Both sides did the basics pretty well, especially up front, and each harried its opposition into several errors. Both still harbour realistic top seven chances, but this appeals as a match that almost counts double in the grand scheme of things and will bring a little more pressure as a result.

WHO'S HOT: Counties-Manukau is getting tremendous service from its loose trio, who turn over a ton of ball with their aggressive tackling style. Fritz lee continues to impress on a weekly basis, but he’s by no means a lone ranger. Jono Owen is having a solid first season in the front row and the scrum is nicely stable as a result. Samisoni Fisilau, who has spent a good deal of 2010 on the bench, gave a strong performance at halfback last weekend. Northland’s forwards had one of their best matches in some time and the lineout worked especially well. Tim Dow has to take some credit for accurate throwing, while Mark Burman and Dean Budd were just as sure on the catch. A number of backs played well but David Holwell was very impressive, especially as he calmed the younger players down going into the final 10 minutes when that vital score was slow in coming. In the end his influence was one of the big factors in Northland gaining its first Dunedin win since 1979.

WE THINK: You could make a strong case for both sides in this match, and it was the hardest of the weekend to call. In the end we decided to go for Northland, as much as anything because they did close out their game last week and the Steelers were unable to do so. That said, there shouldn’t be more than five points in it at the end.

TEAMS:

Counties-Manukau: 1. Simon Lemalu, 2. Grant Henson or Ilaisa Maasi, 3. Jono Owen, 4. Taiasina Tuifua, 5. Jamie Chipman (captain), 6. Fritz Lee, 7. Mark Selwyn or DJ Forbes, 8. Viliami Fihaki, 9. August Pulu, 10. Dean Cummins, 11. Sherwin Stowers, 12. Tana Umaga, 13. Siale Piutau, 14. David Raikuna, 15. Tim Nanai-Williams.

Reserves: 16. Maasi or Mark Price, 17. Graham Dewes, 18. Ronald Raaymakers, 19. Forbes or Selwyn, 20. Samisoni Fisilau, 21. Reynold Lee-Lo, 22. Ahsee Tuala.

Northland: 1. Matt Wallis, 2. Tim Dow, 3. Bronson Murray, 4. Pat O’Connor, 5. Mark Burman, 6. Dean Budd, 7. Dan Pryor, 8. Cameron Eyre, 9. Rhyan Caine, 10. David Holwell, 11. Lachie Munro, 12. Aaron Bancroft, 13. Rene Ranger, 14. Mateo Malupo, 15. Jared Payne (captain).

Reserves: 16. Mikaele Tuu’u, 17. Ross Wright, 18. Roy Griffin, 19. Cameron Goodhue, 20. Luke Hamilton, 21. Adam Clarke, 22. Simon Munro.

REFEREE: Chris Pollock