Preview: Manawatu v Counties

Getty Images

Sunday, September 7, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Sunday 7 September, 2.35pm at FMG Stadium
Played: 31, 1974-2012 (DNP 2013)
Counties Manukau wins: 18 | Manawatu wins: 12 | Draws: 1

Squad update: With a short turnaround Manawatu have looked to keep things simple by making minimal changes to a successful squad that has now won three of their first four matches.

Nick Crosswell will play for the team after it was feared that the forward might have to visit the judiciary, but the influential leader was cleared to play and will take place at number eight alongside Callum Gibbons and Heiden Bedwell Curtis.

For the second week in a row there are three changes to the starting fifteen for the Steelers.

Dan Hyatt returns at blindside, Michael Stanley gets his first start at first five-eighth and Toni Pulu returns on the left wing. Prop John Tu'ungafasi and lock Sikeli Nabou come on to the pine and are joined by Ahsee Tuala and Sherwin Stowers.

Form: Manawatu are deservedly top of the table after their strong start to the season, and victory over a Premiership team, and first over Counties since 2009, would be a fitting reward.

Northland, Wellington and Bay of Plenty have been conquered by the Turbos but an inform Premiership scalp would go along way to the Manawatu team’s quest to seek promotion.

The Steelers have had since August 30 to stew over losing the Ranfurly Shield, and will look to get their season back on track with their 19th victory over Manawatu and first since 2012 (the teams did not play last season).

The first of two road matches (followed by Waikato next week) the Steelers may have lost the Log o’Wood but are still a title threat in the Premiership and will want to confirm this fact.

Last match: Counties Manukau 31 Manawatu 28, 20.09.12 in Pukekohe (ITMC)

Last Manawatu win: Manawatu 36 Counties Manukau 31, 02.08.09 in Palmerston North (ANZC)

Biggest Counties Manukau score: 60 (60-26), 22.08.93 in Pukekohe (NPC)

Biggest Manawatu score: 41 (41-14), 09.08.75 in Palmerston North

Biggest differential: Counties Manukau by 35 (35-0), 09.09.92 in Palmerston North (NPC)

Key players: Manawatu will look to key players in the backline, with Jason Emery a leader at second five eighth, while Kanye Hammington will want to free his resources up out wide.

The match will mark the 50th game for three of the Steelers. The trio includes co-captain Tim Nanai-Williams, first five-eighth Ahsee Tuala and halfback Kane Hancy.

Head Coach Tana Umaga said his side has to move on from the disappointment of the Ranfurly Shield match last week and concentrate on the task ahead.