Preview: Counties Manukau v Waikato

Getty Images

Friday, September 20, 2013    Getty Images

Could it come down to which side is able to cope defensively?

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 58; Counties-Manukau 19, Waikato 38, drawn 1.

LAST TIME: October 6, 2012 (Pukekohe) - Counties-Manukau 28-32 Waikato.

MISSING IN ACTION: The Steelers are likely to go with the same team that saw them suceed in their first-ever Ranfurly Shield defence against Taranaki.

Meanwhile for Waikato Brian Alainu[uese (ankle) and Jack Lam (hamstring) have been forced out with injury, while Wharenui Hawera and Semisi Masirewa have been dropped to the bench.

It's not all bad news for the visitors, with Ben Tameifuna returning from suspension while Sean Hohneck could play his first match for the province since 2005 if he comes off the bench on Saturday.

FORM: There's no doubt about it, the Ranfurly Shield has re-invigorated Counties Manukau's season. Two heavy defeats in three matches aren't the ideal start to a season in anyone's books, but their hard-fought and historic 27-24 Ranfurly Shield win over Hawke's Bay provided the catalyst the newly-promoted union needed to perform to their best.

Their ability to capitalise on errors was seen by some 12,000 at ECOLight Stadium last weekend as Counties Manukau pounced on a Taranaki error to score within the opening five minutes. They will need to be as clinical come Saturday because Waikato aren't likely to offer as many chances.

Waikato have been chalk and cheese in 2013. They started the season with the Shield, defeating Northland 31-22 before losing it to Otago less than a week later. They suffered consecutive defeats, including a 16-20 loss to Southland, before returning to form with an emphatic 42-24 victory over Auckland in Hamilton. Neverthess, there will be motivation aplenty for Waikato, who started the season with the Shield and will be dead keen to get their hands back on the prized trophy.

WE THINK: Was Waikato's 18-point hammering of an undercooked Auckland side a fluke? Will we see two teams go all out on attack to seal victory? There are plenty of questions posed of this encounter, with a victory for either side consolidating their spot in the top four. With four rounds to go until pool play ends every point is vital so expect a tight tussle with less than a converted try in it.

Counties Manukau by 4

Counties Manukau: TBC

1. Toby Smith, 2. Brayden Mitchell, 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Nick Ross, 5. Sam Kilgour, 6. Rory Grice, 7. Jono Armstrong, 8. Adam Burn, 9. Brad Weber, 10. Sam Christie, 11. Dylan Collier, 12. Jackson Willison (c), 13. Save Tokula, 14, Tim Mikkelson, 15. Trent Renata.
Substitutes: 16. Vance Elliott, 17. Paul Alo-Emile, 18. Sean Hohneck, 19. Zak Hohneck, 20. Mick Snowden, 21. Wharenui Hawera, 22. Semisi Masirewa.