Preview: Northland v Hawke’s Bay

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Thursday, September 4, 2014    Getty Images

Friday 5 September, 8.05pm at Toll Stadium, Whangarei
Played: 31, 1929-2013
Hawke's Bay wins: 11 | Northland wins: 19 | Draws: 1

Squad update: Northland will be without the services of Winston Stanley, after it was unfortunately confirmed that the back will miss the remainder of the season with a broken thumb.

The bad news on the casualty front doesn’t stop there, Filipo Nakosi and Jone Macilai are out, robbing the Taniwha of valuable strike weaponry on the outside flanks. This has resulted in three changes, with Ume Fosita, Whiria Meltzer and Brook Gilmore coming into the backline.

The Magpies, still on a high after winning the Shield, have resisted wide spread changes, with key figures remaining in a line-up that suddenly looks more potent based on their recent feats.

Chris Eaton and Ihaia West are the starting halves in a backline featuring Richard Buckman, Ryan Tongia, Robbie Fruean and Andrew Horrell – a division capable of matching any other in the ITM Cup.

Form: Shield aside, Hawke’s Bay are sitting third on the Championship table, and while they may hold one of the game’s iconic symbols, Northland are wounded and have shown they are capable of a big match.

The Magpies have beaten Counties and Taranaki, no mean scalps, both Premiership teams, even if they were humbled by Tasman in a season opener that in hindsight might have just caught Hawke’s Bay off guard.

Northland’s high water mark remains their thumping win against Wellington, but with no disrespect to the Lions, they have not really roared this season. Manawatu took a tight win against them, and Canterbury ran riot.

How they perform against a province they haven’t beaten since 2011 could decide the home team’s campaign.

Last match: Hawke's Bay 31 Northland 26, 15.09.13 in Napier (ITMC)

Last Northland win: Northland 43 Hawke's Bay 34, 24.08.11 in Whangarei (ITMC)

Biggest Hawke's Bay score: 41 (41-22), 13.08.94 in Napier (NPC)

Biggest Northland score: 66 (66-12), 01.11.03 in Napier (NPC PR)

Biggest differential: Northland by 54 (66-12), 01.11.03 in Napier (NPC PR)

Key players: Dan Hawkins has scored 23 points so far this season, down the leader board but the growing first five-eighth is young and is working with one of the freshest in the competition.

Dan Pryor and captain Cam Eyre have been important figures in the back row, part of a Northland pack that has been up against it early in the competition, even if their defence is by tackle success the best in the competition.

For the Magpies, it really is a case of take your pick among a wide supporting cast that has played a fast game that suits the DNA of their players.

The likes of West and Buckman are looking more than capable of one day aspiring to a higher level, and if they continue to showcase their running threats that even the Taniwha’s outstanding tackling will be tested.