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Preview: Auckland v Northland

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

LAST TIME: Auckland 26 def Northland 13, 2010 at Eden Park

WALKING WOUNDED: Luke Braid is still out for Auckland with his high ankle sprain. Junior Poluleiligaga is still feeling the effects of his dislocated shoulder. However, off-setting their continued absence is the return of first five-eighths Simon Hickey.

Northland has made three personnel changes with centurion Bronson Murray dropped to the bench. Rupeni Caucaunibuca has been omitted from the squad while Viliami Tahitu'a makes way for Warren Dunn at second-five.

FORM: Auckland were at the top of the premiership table with five wins from as many starts. But no one was convinced.

Perhaps Waikato, who ran in a whopping six tries, gave the blue and white hoops the reality check they needed after scraping past North Harbour, Manawatu and Counties Manukau.

True, the men from Eden Park walloped Taranaki but the Steelers proved in last week's shield match that that isn't hard to do.

There was never any real expectation around Northland even with the inclusion of Rene Ranger and Caucaunibuca in their squad.

Their loss to Waikato in the opening round set the tone for what has been a largely disappointing season and the trend continued when they were outdone in Hawke's Bay last week.

WE THINK: Auckland are hot favourites for this match-up, and deservedly so. With so much talent within his squad, Wayne Pivac will hope that last week's hiccup will be the catalyst for a passionate team performance in front of their home crowd.

After last week's dismal run in Hamilton the onus will be on a number of senior players to stand up and guide the team. There's nothing worse than seeing players with the experience of Piri Weepu and Peter Saili fumbling around at the back of the scrum before giving away a try to the opposition.

Northland can play an expansive style of rugby but errors continue to hamper their progress. Auckland will need to stay focused on their own execution to avoid being caught up in the mess.

In the end it should be a convincing win for the home side. Let's say: Auckland by 15.

TEAMS

Auckland:1. Sam Prattley, 2. Tom McCartney, 3. Angus Ta'avao, 4. Liaki Moli, 5.Jack Whetton, 6.Joe Edwards, 7. Sean Polwart, 8. Peter Saili, 9. Piri Weepu, 10. Simon Hickey, 11.George Moala, 12. Hadleigh Parkes (c), 13. Malakai Fekitoa, 14.Vince Aso, 15.Lolagi Visinia.

Reserves: 16.Nathan Vella, 17.Pauliasi Manu, 18. Ofa Tu'ungafasi. 19.Patrick Tuipulotu, 20.Kara Pryor, 21.Wayne Ngaluafe, 22. Tenina Sauileoge.

Northland: 1. Ross Wright, 2. Matt Moulds, 3. Will-Griff, 4. David Morgan, 5. Tom Murday, 6. Roy Griffin, 7. Daniel Pryor, 8. Jake Paringatai, 9. Sonatane Takulua, 10. Daniel Hawkins. 11. Rene Ranger (c), 12. Warren Dunn, 13. Derek Carpenter, 14. Mathew Wright, 15. Ben Seymour.

Reserves: 16. Robbie Abel, 17. Bronson Murray, 18. Bryce Williams, 19. Ben Berridge, 20. Mac Sykes, 21. Viliami Tahitu'a, 22. Mateo Malupo.