Preview: Counties Manukau v Manawatu

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Growers Stadium, Pukekohe, Wednesday July 20 @ 1735

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 29; Counties-Manukau 16 wins, Manawatu 12, drawn 1.

LAST TIME: August 21, 2010 (Pukekohe) – Counties-Manukau 35-14 Manawatu.

WALKING WOUNDED: Counties-Manukau has made a ton of changes, with only three forwards (Jamie Chipman, DJ Forbes and Fritz Lee) backing up from Sunday's starting lineup. The backline is also much rearranged, although most of the players who started against the Steamers are on the bench this time. Milton Haig also has three regulars back from the Pacific Nations Cup to strengthen his hand. Manawatu has retained the guts of its forward pack that did so well last week; although Grant Polson is nursing a tender calf he will play if he can. Lewis Marshall and Craig Clare return from injuries to add depth to the backline and David Te Moana brings his experience and skill to a handy-looking reserves bench.

Round 1: lost to Bay of Plenty 13-20 (h)

Round 1: beat Hawke's Bay 32-23 (h)

Although beaten, Counties-Manukau offered plenty against the Steamers on Sunday. Only self-inflicted wounds, particularly handling errors and a shonky lineout, allowed Bay of Plenty to wriggle off several potential hooks. There was enough from the Steelers to suggest a few highly watchable wins aren't far away and, since the Steelers squad is deeper than it has been for years, the home team has a strong-looking bench to back an exciting starting lineup for this game. Manawatu gained a win that delighted its fans last week, as much for the manner of victory as for the fact it was Hawke's Bay (for the first time in 15 years) on the receiving end and in the union's 125th Jubilee match. After hanging in there during a tough first half the Turbos kicked on in the second spell and finished chances in good style. A solid and now experienced pack did the hard yards and the backs, also mostly experienced men, took advantage to claim a bonus point on the game's last play.

WHO'S HOT: Simon Lemalu has been a rock in the Counties-Manukau pack for years now and the mobile loosehead is also a significant force around the park; his return from international duty will only bolster the front five. Samisoni Fisilau is another who has been on test duty and is a threat with his running game as well as distribution skills, while Sherwin Stowers will enjoy the freedom to run from the back and chime in wherever and whenever he can. Michael Fitzgerald has become one of Manawatu's most reliable forwards and will always do his bit in a good lineout, as well as making plenty of hard yards and tough tackles. Nick Crosswell is a renowned forager who turns over a lot of ball as well as protecting his own side's possession and is a force in any match he plays. Junior Tomasi Cama, who plays his 50th match in the green and white, is better known for his sevens exploits but is a constant danger in the 15-man game with speed, vision and the ability to break defences open in an instant.

WE THINK: One can make a good case for both teams in this match and calling it in favour of the Steelers wasn't easy. There really isn't much between the sides and so this call is perhaps done more on home field than anything else; Counties-Manukau has a good record against Manawatu at Pukekohe but any margin bigger than one score would surprise.


Counties-Manukau: 1. Simon Lemalu, 2. Mark Price, 3. Matt Talaese, 4. Chris McLaren, 5. Jamie Chipman (capt), 6. Adam Cathcart, 7. DJ Forbes, 8. Fritz Lee, 9. Samisoni Fisilau, 10. James Semple, 11. Bundee Aki, 12. Reynold Lee-Lo, 13. Siale Piutau, 14. Tyrone Lefau, 15. Sherwin Stowers.

Reserves: 16. Grant Henson, 17. Ihipa Thompson, 18. Ronald Raaymakers, 19. Sikeli Nabou, 20. August Pulu, 21. Niva Ta'auso or Tasesa Lavea, 22. Ahsee Tuala, 23. Maka Tatafu.

Manawatu: 1. Grant Polson or Peni Kaufusi, 2. Rob Foreman, 3. Ma'afu Fia, 4. Fraser Stone, 5. Michael Fitzgerald, 6. Nick Crosswell (capt), 7. Doug Tietjens, 8. James Oliver, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Junior Tomasi Cama, 12. Johnny Leota, 13. Lewis Marshall, 14. Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 15. Craig Clare or Nehe Milne-Skudder.

Reserves: 16. Bryn Templeman, 17. Kaufusi or Jared Brock, 18. Reece Robinson, 19. Hamish Gosling, 20. Karl Bryson, 21. Daniel Kelly, 22. Clare or Frank Bryant, 23. David Te Moana.

REFEREE: Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (ITM Cup debut)