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Preview: Northland v Bay of Plenty

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Toll Stadium, Whangarei, Thursday August 4 @ 1935

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 54; Northland 32, Bay of Plenty 21, drawn 1.

LAST TIME: October 21, 2010 (Whangarei) – Northland 36-24 Bay of Plenty.

WALKING WOUNDED: Northland has made only a few changes for this match but that small number included one they didn't want; Rene Ranger suffered a lacerated kidney in a heavy tackle against Otago and will probably miss the rest of the season. Aaron Bancroft is a handy substitute. The other changes – at No 8 and halfback – were optional. The Bay of Plenty reserves bench bears more resemblance to the regular side than the starting XV this week, as Sean Horan has rested seven of his run-on forwards from last week and moved Luke Braid, who also takes over as captain, back to No 8. The backline isn't quite so altered but there are still changes there; despite all that, the team has a solid look to it.

FORM:
Northland:
Round 1: beat Tasman 19-9 (h)
Round 2: lost to Manawatu 22-30 (a)
Round 3: lost to Taranaki 16-23 (h)
Round 4: beat Otago 20-17 (h)

Bay of Plenty:
Round 1: beat Counties-Manukau 20-13 (a)
Round 2: beat North Harbour 38-17 (h)
Round 3: beat Waikato 36-8 (h)
Round 4: beat Wellington 32-0 (h)

Northland recovered from a couple of frustrating losses to claim a good win over Otago on the weekend and, after midweek results, find themselves right in the middle of a decent scrap for finals positions in the Championship section. The forwards had to do plenty of hard work against the Dark Blues but did it well and the backs took most scoring chances in what was a tough but entertaining match. Bay of Plenty gave Wellington a right old hiding to carry on its outstanding start; that was the first time Wellington had been blanked since 1988 and it was fully deserved on the run of play. Although the Bay didn't score its fourth try until the last couple of minutes it was a beauty when it came and suggested that the lack of second-half scoring was more due to the Steamers wanting to ensure they got four points from a top of the table clash. As it turned out, they got five and deserved the lot.

WHO'S HOT: Northland skipper Joel McKenty leads a good loose trio into this game and will relish going up against other guys who play the same way he does – his opposites are also hard, direct, aggressive and skilful. Bryce Williams has been strong in a much-improved Northland lineout and will need to bring all his skills against what has been a highly efficient Bay unit. He has also been good around the park and is proving a valuable signing. Aaron Bancroft has always been a talented player and he is having one of his best seasons in 2011, making good ground on attack, defending well and often providing the vital touches. Bay prop Bronson Murray would probably feel more at home in the opposition jersey – he played 96 times for Northland - but will go out wanting to prove a point or two to his old mates. Strong and experienced, he will be the Steamers' forward anchor in this match. Taniela Moa has been dynamic in his games so far, either as a starter or off the bench, and is controlling play nicely. Something about the Bay obviously agrees with him and he has really fitted into the team pattern well. Steve Kefu, the bruising former Reds midfielder, has also slotted in nicely and brings a wealth of experience to the centres. His rock-solid defence is one of the main reasons why the Bay has the best defensive record in the competition and he is also contributing well on attack – where the Bay is second best among the 14 teams.

WE THINK: The only thing that prevents a relatively easy call is the fact Bay of Plenty has rested so many of its main players. Northland did play well last week but they now meet a side that deserves to be on top of the table and there will be a step up from last Saturday. The Bay should win this match, but there probably won't be a lot in it, maybe seven points or so.

TEAMS:

Northland: 1. Justin Davies, 2. Ross Wright, 3. Scott Vessey, 4. Bryce Williams, 5. Marty Veale, 6. Joel McKenty (capt), 7. Dan Pryor, 8. Cameron Eyre, 9. Rhyan Caine, 10. Ash Moeke, 11. Bryce Heem, 12. Aaron Bancroft, 13. Derek Carpenter, 14. Simon Munro, 15. Lachie Munro.

Reserves: 16. Tevita Vaipulu, 17. Aterea Davis, 18. Mark Burman, 19. Dan Faleafa, 20. Wayne Ngaluafe, 21. Jack McPhee, 22. Warren Dunn, 23. Jamie Corsi.

Bay of Plenty: 1. Pingi Tala'apitanga, 2. Daniel Perrin, 3. Bronson Murray, 4. Leon Power, 5. Leighton Price, 6. Carl Axtens, 7. Sam Cane, 8. Luke Braid (capt), 9. Taniela Moa, 10. Daniel Waenga, 11. Lance MacDonald, 12. Steve Kefu, 13. Jason Hona, 14. Lelia Masaga, 15. Chris Noakes.

Reserves: 16. John Pareanga, 17. Tristan Moran, 18. Culum Retallick, 19. Tanerau Latimer, 20. Jamie Nutbrown, 21. Toby Arnold, 22. Ben W Smith, 23. Greg Pleasants-Tate.

REFEREE: Mike Fraser