Preview: North Harbour v Tasman
Thursday, September 12, 2013 Sportal.co.nz Getty Images
LAST TIME: October 13, 2012 (Nelson) - North Harbour 42-10 Tasman.
MISSING IN ACTION: North Harbour welcome back the country's newest All Black, second five-eighth Francis Saili, who slots back into the midfield alongside ever-improving centre Pita Ahki. Alex Woonton has been promoted to starting prop, relegating Greg Pleasants-Tate to the bench.
Tevita Koloamatagi's chest injury sees George Stowers assume the No.8 jersey in what is the only change to the Makos for this one.
FORM: North Harbour may sit at the bottom of the Championship but they will be buoyed by some promising early season form against two of the Premiership's unbeaten sides. They pushed Auckland hard before succumbing 20-27, while they ran Wellington close before they were downed 27-35. Add to that a 33-33 draw with Northland and a 12-15 defeat to Manawatu and they've come within seven points of victory in three of their five matches. Their time will come.
Tasman, meanwhile, have sparkled this season. A second round 13-28 defeat to Canterbury aside, the 2012 Championship semi-finalists have been in history-making form already in 2013. Their latest result was a 49-16 victory over Otago – their first ever over their southern counterparts. Their 127 points scored is the highest for any Championship team and the fourth equal best in the two divisions, while their points scored against (79) is the third best in the competition and is better than Auckland and Wellington. Only Canterbury (47) and Southland (69) have conceded fewer points this season.
WE THINK: Tasman's defence has been outstanding this season and should outshine their opponents on Friday night.
Tasman's 79 points conceded are almost half of what North Harbour have conceded (154). While they started the season with an outstanding defensive effort, it appears the steam has run out for the hosts as Liam Barry's men try to register their first win of the season.
Tasman have been well served by fullback Marty Banks while Robbie Malneek has been at his best from the bench for the visitors.
Expect Saili to have plenty of impact for the hosts and James Parsons to lead from the front at hooker, but going on current form it's hard to look past the Championship leaders. Tasman by 5.
1. Alex Woonton, 2. James Parsons (c), 3. Ben Afeaki, 4. Chris Smith, 5. Brandon Nansen, 6. Jordan Manihera, 7. Malakai Ravulo, 8. Vil Fihaki, 9. Brenton Helleur, 10. Jon Elrick, 11. Jona Tuitoga, 12. Francis Saili, 13. Pita Ahki, 14. Nafi Tuitavake, 15. Michael Little.
Substitutes: 16. Ray Niuia, 17. Greg Pleasants Tate, 18. Irwin Finau, 19. Scott Uren, 20. Bryn Hall, 21. Codey Rei, 22. Tua Saseve.
1. Tim Perry, 2. Quentin MacDonald, 3. Sila Puafisi, 4. Alex Ainley, 5. Joe Wheeler, 6. Liam Squire, 7. Shane Christie (c), 8. George Stowers, 9. Mark Swanepoel,, 10. Hayden Cripps, 11. James Lowe, 12. Tom Marshall, 13. Kieron Fonotia, 14. Bryce Heem, 15. Marty Banks.
Subtitutes: 16. Francis Smith, 17. Siua Halanukonuka, 18. Tevita Cavubati, 19. Gary Redmond, 20. Billy Guyton, 21. Mitchell Scott, 22. Robbie Malneek.
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