Preview: Tasman v Taranaki

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Thursday, September 11, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Thursday 11 September, 7.35pm at Trafalgar Park, Nelson
Played: 9, 2006-2013
Taranaki wins: 7 | Tasman wins: 2

Squad update: Tasman are without regular captain Shane Christie, ruled out as the coaching team have deemed that the hard working flanker needs a break after a suffering a series of small injury complaints.

Lock Joe Wheeler comes into the team, and in the process gains the captain’s armband, while Tevita Koloamatangi starts in the back row, replacing Christie. The Makos backline is unchanged.

Taranaki have decided to, like their opponents have with some of their players, give some stars a rest, including midfielder Charlie Ngatai, which the coaching team have literally needed to defend.

Kurt Baker comes into the starting XV, while Amber and Black captain James Marshall will start at second five-eighth.

Form: The Makos are alongside champions Canterbury one of just two unbeaten sides in the ITM Cup.

Wins against the Magpies and Steamers were slightly soured with that 16-16 draw against Auckland, but Tasman showed their mettle with a gritty 23-16 win over Waikato at home last week, and they will want to keep their record intact in their third home game of the 2014 campaign.

The Amber and Blacks, after a bumpy start which included a 9-9 draw against Counties and that awkward three point loss to Hawke’s Bay, have settled into proceedings, and not before time as coach Colin Cooper was beginning to become frustrated.

Taranaki have beaten Waikato 46-17, the Steamers 41-3 and Southland 41-19, but will be wary of the hosts despite a strong head to head record, after all the Makos defeated them in New Plymouth last season.

Last match: Tasman 27 Taranaki 20, 06.10.13 in New Plymouth (ITMC)

Last Taranaki win: Taranaki 49 Tasman 40, 01.09.12 in New Plymouth (ITMC, RS)

Biggest Taranaki score: 49 (49–40), 01.09.12 in New Plymouth (ITMC, RS)

Biggest Tasman score: 33 (33-23), 17.08.08 in Nelson (ANZC)

Biggest differential: Taranaki by 25 (42–17), 30.09.06 in New Plymouth (ANZC RP)

Key players: Marty Banks has become one of those breeds that seems to almost be tailor made to the ITM Cup, scoring roughly a point every four minutes, and a big part of this has come from the twin threats of James Lowe and Bryce Heem on the wings, as well as Kieron Fonotia in the midfield, who have put the hosts in the right position more often than not.

Christie will be missed, but Liam Squire ensures there is clout in the loose forward trio, while Quentin MacDonald and Tim Perry form one of the better front rows.

Marty McKenzie, one of an almost ridiculous number of first five-eighths plying their trade in the competition, will operate with the impressive Waisake Naholo at left wing, while Seta Tamanivalu is among the best centres in the Premiership.

James Broadhurst and Blade Thomson, mighty figures in recent weeks, will be major artillery if the Amber and Blacks are to put pressure on the ladder leading red and blacks.