Preview: Northland v Taranaki

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Thursday, September 18, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Thursday 18 September, 7.35pm at Toll Stadium, Whangarei
Played: 46, 1924-2012 (DNP 2013)
Northland wins: 17 | Taranaki wins: 28 | Draws: 1

Squad update:
Kara Pryor will come into the starting lineup for Northland after Jack Ram was ruled out, meaning that the flanker will play alongside his brother Dan.

In other changes Namatahi Waa comes into the front row while Shane Neville returns to the starting lineup, resulting in Willgriff John and Michael Stolberg shifting to the reserves. There are also two changes to the backline, when halfback Tane Takulua returning to the side alongside wing Jone Macilai.

Taranaki have made four changes, with Ryan Cocker (tighthead), Riki Hoeata (lock), Chris Smylie (halfback) and Charlie Ngatai (second five-eighth) coming into the team.

Form: Northland might have been overrun by Southland in an entertaining spectacle, which gave them a 3-3 record at the halfway point of the season, but they are much better than that ledger suggests.

Wellington, Hawke’s Bay and Otago know how dangerous the Taniwha can be, and they will be keen to triumph in their penultimate home match of the regular season.

The Amber and Blacks 31-30 win over Tasman was the latest in an impressive run of victories, with forty plus point ledgers against Southland, Bay of Plenty and Waikato in the weeks leadingt into that Makos victory.

This will be the team’s first match since 2011, with Taranaki leading the willing rivalry, with the sides playing out a 32-31 thriller to the Amber and Blacks advantage last outing.

Last match: Taranaki 32 Northland 31, 22.09.11 in Whangarei (ITMC)

Last Northland win: Northland 26 Taranaki 19, 29.07.10 in New Plymouth (ITMC)

Biggest Taranaki score: 62 (62-11), 04.09.04 in Whangarei (NPC)

Biggest Northland score: 40 (40-11), 15.08.87 in Whangarei (NPC)

Biggest differential: Taranaki by 51 (62-11), 04.09.04 in Whangarei (NPC)

Key players: The return of key players in Takulua and Macilai will be crucial, but once again the focus will be on the axis up front and out wide.

Cam Eyre will play alongside the Pryor brothers in an interesting back row, while Dan Hawkins and strike wing Latiume Fosita will be crucial individuals.

Mary McKenzie continues to earn plaudits and is an easy choice for coach Colin Cooper, with Kurt Baker and Waisake Naholo forming an exciting wing combination.

However watch for centre Seta Tamanivalu and number eight Blade Thomson - they seem to have notable impacts through their side’s games.