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Preview: Manawatu v Hawke's Bay

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Friday, July 15, 2011    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: FMG Stadium, Palmerston North, Saturday July 16 @ 1435

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 93; Manawatu 29 wins, Hawke's Bay 61, drawn 3.

LAST TIME: August 29, 2010 (Palmerston North) – Manawatu 9-17 Hawke's Bay.

WALKING WOUNDED:

FORM: Manawatu's pre-season was not a long one and started with a last-minute loss to Wellington before the Turbos sustained a heavier defeat from Bay of Plenty. Most of Hawke's Bay's programme came in Saracens matches but the rep team gave Bay of Plenty a bit of a doing in poor conditions last week, which augered well for their chances in the early rounds.

WHO'S HOT: Any discussion of Manawatu's chances involves Aaron Cruden, who still has every chance to press All Black claims. He is now a confident player at the next level up, so should be a controlling one in the ITM Cup. On top of that his goal-kicking is very good – he kicked 80 percent of his chances in Investec Super rugby – and therefore should be a steady source of points. The Manawatu forwards include a number of players who have two or three seasons at this level behind them and steady hooker Rob Foreman is always going to give good value, both in the tight and around the field. The loose forwards turned over a lot of ball in 2010, so watch for Nick Crosswell to be disruptive and creative again this season. Hawke's Bay has lost some experience although there's still plenty left and Hika Elliot is another who, like Cruden, is not far away from the All Blacks. Although not involved in the current squad, a strong campaign will keep his name in the discussions. New skipper Mike Coman is a 'follow me' leader and a good player, who never spares anything in his endeavours and whose battered nose is sure to feature prominently all year. The Bay needs Andrew Horrell to take control of matches this year and kick his goals as well; showed enough in limited matches last year to suggest he can fulfil both roles to a good standard. Chris Eaton plays his 50th match for Hawke's Bay this week.

WE THINK: Hawke's Bay is the TAB favourite for the Championship title and should be, as the team has performed well over the last few years. They do have the strike power to sort out plenty of sides this year. They should be too good for Manawatu, although the visitors need to concentrate if they're going to get a win here; if they pay attention, a margin of 10-15 could be on.

TEAMS:

Manawatu: 1. Grant Polson (capt), 2. Rob Foreman, 3. Ma'afu Fia, 4. Michael Fitzgerald, 5. Fraser Stone, 6. Nick Crosswell, 7. Callum Gibbins, 8. Hamish Gosling, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Junior Tomasi Cama, 12. Frank Bryant, 13. Johnny Leota, 14. Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 15. Nehe Milne-Skudder.

Reserves: 16. Bryn Templeman, 17. Peni Kaufusi, 18. Jared Brock, 19. Reece Robinson, 20. James Oliver, 21. Karl Bryson, 22. Daniel Kelly, 23. Lewis Marshall or Casey Stone.


Hawke's Bay: 1. Hikairo Forbes, 2. Hikawera Elliot, 3. Jody Allen, 4. Brodie Retallick, 5. Bryn Evans, 6. Hugh Reed, 7. Karl Lowe, 8. Mike Coman (capt), 9. Chris Eaton, 10. Andrew Horrell, 11. Tu Umaga-Marshall, 12. Ryan McLeod, 13. Star Timu, 14. Sinoti Sinoti, 15. Mark Jackman.

Reserves: 16. Danny Logan, 17. Ashton Johnson, 18. Ben Tameifuna, 19. Adam Bradey, 20. Isaac Paewai, 21. Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22. Richard Buckman, 23. Sona Taumalolo.

REFEREE: Richard Kelly