Preview: Auckland v North Harbour

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Saturday, September 20, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday 20 September, 5.35pm at Eden Park, Auckland
Played: 34, 1986-2013
North Harbour wins: 6 | Auckland wins: 27 | Draws: 1

Squad update: Patrick Tuipulotu has been released from All Blacks duty and has been named to start in the Auckland pack, one of two changes up front, with Marist number eight Peter Saili returning to action.

Outwide Francis Saili has been dropped, paving the way for TJ Faiane to earn his first Auckland start, a suitable reward for the second five-eighth after a strong display last week against the Steamers.

North Harbour are about to enter their congested period of the season, playing Canterbury and Hawke’s Bay over the eight days, but head coach Steve Jackson has opted against major changes after his team did the business against the Turbos.

Michael Farmer returns from injury, resulting in lock Gerard Tuioti-Mariner shifting to the pine. The other alteration in the forwards will see Jordan Manihera run out at blindside flanker ahead of Irwin Finau.

Harbour’s backline features just the one change, with Under 20s prodigy Tevita Li returning to the left wing at the expense of David Raikuna.

Form: Auckland’s 27-12 victory over the Steamers was their third of the season, ensuring that the blue and whites are undefeated since their first round loss to Canterbury.

Without a loss against North Harbour since 2009, this clash has ‘banana-skin’ about it for the most successful domestic union in New Zealand, for after this clash against a Championship side – Auckland coach Paul Feeney has Taranaki, Waikato and Counties in a tough back end to the host's regular campaign.

Harbour, who put together their best display of the season against the Championship leading Turbos, have been much better than their solitary victory suggests, earning a tournament leading three losing bonus points.

Victory will not only give Harbour their second triumph for 2014, but a congested table could see the tourists move towards the top four at the conclusion of the round.

Last match: Auckland 27 North Harbour 20, 18.08.13 in Auckland (ITMC)

Last North Harbour win: North Harbour 16 Auckland 14, 19.09.09 in Auckland (ANZC)

Biggest Auckland score: 71 (71-27), 10.06.95 in Auckland (NPC)

Biggest North Harbour score: 35 (35-31), 04.09.94 in Auckland (NPC)

Biggest differential: Auckland by 44 (71-27), 10.06.95 in Auckland (NPC)

Key players: A big part of Auckland’s success so far this season has come when their pack has fired up, and with Liaki Moli partnering Tuipulotu, expect plenty of mongrel to be on display around the breakdown.

Yet the spotlight falls on Gareth Anscombe, with the experienced playmaker named ahead of Grammar TEC’s Simon Hickey. Hadleigh Parkes returns from injury to ensure that the young Faiane has experience draped around him.

The Harbour forwards did the business against Manawatu last week, but it was the efforts of their soldiers out wide that would have impressed.

Captain Bryn Hall has been in strong form this season - his combination with Daniel Halangahu has been working well, while Robbie Robinson and Luke Devcich have been providing more punch as the season progresses.