Preview: Bay of Plenty v North Harbour

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Sunday, September 7, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Sunday 7 September, 4.35pm at Rotorua International Stadium
Played: 26, 1985-2011 (DNP 2012/13)
Bay of Plenty wins: 12 | North Harbour wins: 14

Squad update: Captain Culum Retallick is on the bench after the 77 cap forward has shouldered a heavy workload early in the season.

Injuries are biting the Steamers, and hard. Multiple changes have occurred, mostly due to bodies entering the casualty ward. Carl Axtens is the new skipper at number eight, Te Aihe Toma will get a run at first five-eighth, while young centre Nic Evemy makes the jump to ITM Cup rugby from Bay of Plenty’s development team. 

North Shore prop Alex Woonton will make his first appearance of the season for Harbour at tighthead after missing the first three rounds through injury.

Woonton’s inclusion in the starting fifteen is the only change to the starting lineup, although loose forward Jim Tuivaiti is battling a rib injury sustained in last week’s loss to Waikato, meaning that Leigh Thompson will travel with the side as back row cover.

Form: Bay of Plenty had their best chance last week, losing 27-29 to a fine Manawatu team, and if one reason was behind their poor run of form of late, it is the missed tackles – the side failed to make nearly 40 against the Turbos.

Still, Steamers fans would have been enthused to see their team put in their best display in the two-point loss, and in front of home support of the two sides Bay of Plenty would be the warm favourite in the final game of the fourth round.

Harbour would have thought they were on their way to conquering Waikato after David Raikuna scored early against Waikato last week, but eventually the side fell to their third straight loss, even though they did capture their second losing bonus point.

The one bright side for the coaching team is a resilient defence, giving up just three tries in five matches, and while the Steamers might be confident, Harbour will be equally bullish about capturing their first Bay of Plenty scalp in five years.

Last match: Bay of Plenty 38 North Harbour 17, 23.07.11 in Mt Maunganui (ITMC)

Last North Harbour win: North Harbour 28 Bay of Plenty 7, 10.10.09 in North Shore City (ANZC)

Biggest Bay of Plenty score: 39 (39-29), 29.08.10 in Rotorua (ITMC)

Biggest North Harbour score: 41 (41-8), 16.09.05 in Rotorua (NPC)

Biggest differential: North Harbour by 33 (41-8), 16.09.05 in Rotorua (NPC)

Key players: A young and inexperienced Bay of Plenty team will look to their more experienced figures up front, with the Steamers looking the business against the Turbos set piece last round.

Joe Royal and Mike Kainga in the front row have been prominent, as has Hamish Gosling at openside flanker. Jono Kitto will partner new boy Toma at first five-eighth.

Harbour captain Bryn Hall has been one of the team’s brightest, and his combination with Matt McGahan will want to move up a level or two – especially with talent like Robbie Robinson, Pita Ahki and Tevita Li out on the flanks.