Preview: Wellington v Manawatu

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Sunday, September 1, 2013    Getty Images

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 80; Wellington 58, Manawatu 17, drawn 6.

LAST TIME: Wellington 30 def Manawatu 11, Round 1, 2012 (Palmerston North).

MISSING IN ACTION: Wellington have made a number of changes as Chris Boyd earns his money by juggling resting players and ensuring others are fresh for the four-day turnaround from their 35-27 win over North Harbour on Wednesday.

Jeremy Thrush and TJ Perenara return to the All Blacks camp, giving back starts to Ross Filipo and Frae Wilson respectively. Victor Vito returns to captain the side after he was rested for Wednesday's win.

Jason Emery has been ruled out through injury for Manawatu, though this is mainly a precautionary measure from coach Jason O'Halloran. Blindside flanker Heiden Bedwell-Curtis earns his run-on debut while Nick Croswell moves into lock.

Hamish Northcott returns from injury to take his place at second five-eighths while he joins Nate George, Newton Turdreu and Jared Brock as players getting their first start of the season.

FORM: Wellington looked to be the form team of the competition, but any ideas of Wellington being the competition favourite took a bit of a turn when they leaked tries and dropped tackles en route to a tense eight-point win over North Harbour.

Given the large amount of changes to the side ahead of the match – the introduction of two All Blacks players who until a week or two ago didn't train much with the side was a big factor – it's easy to assume they will be back to their best on Sunday. That remains to be seen.

They do, though, have the benefit of playing at Westpac Stadium for the second straight match, somewhat of a luxury for any of the ITM Cup teams this season.
Manawatu came agonisingly close to upsetting Auckland before eventually being downed 21-18. The visitors also scored 18 points in their opening match but it was nowhere near good enough against Hawke's Bay, who had a rampant 45-18 win.

Wellington will need to keep their foot on the throat of the ITM Cup Premiership competition and should do so against a Manawatu team looking desperate for points.

The reintroduction of local stars Vito, Ross Filipo and Brad Shields will bolster a Wellington team keen on ending a 13-year title drought and that their all-round star power should prove too much for Manawatu to handle. Wellington by 20.

1. John Schwalger, 2. Motu Matu'u/Reggie Goodes, 3. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 4. Ross Filipo, 5. Mark Reddish, 6. Faifili Levave, 7. Adam Hill, 8. Victor Vito (c), 9. Frae Wilson, 10. Lima Sopoaga, 11. Joe Hill, 12. Shaun Treeby, 13. Tim Bateman, 14. Matt Proctor, 15. Charlie Ngatai.

Substitutes: 16. Reggie Goodes/TBC, 17. Eric Sione, 18. Kaipati Gaualofa, 19. Ardie Savea, 20. Genesis Mamea, 21. Tomasi Palu, 22. Afa Fa'atau.

1. Jared Brock, 2. Bryn Templeman, 3. Chris Eves, 4. Nick Crosswell (c), 5. Michael Fitzgerald, 6. Heiden Bedwell Curtis, 7. Callum Gibbons, 8. James Oliver, 9. Nic Stirzaker, 10. Nate George, 11. Newton Tudreu, 12. Hamish Northcott, 13. Nico Malo, 14. Nehe Milner-Skudder, 15. Lewis Marshall.

Substitutes: 16. Nick Grogan, 17. Damian Horgan, 18. Dan Squire, 19. Hamish Gosling, 20. Papa Wharewera, 21. Jade Te Rure, 22. Willie Paia'aua.