Preview: North Harbour v Canterbury

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Squad update: North Harbour coach Steve Jackson is still grappling with a heavy injury toll, the worst in the ITM Cup alongside Wellington, with a dozen players missing through injury.

With Jordan Manihera the latest back row forward out with injury, the home team will field a new loose combination of Irwin Finau, Josh Blucher and Leigh Thompson. Matt McGahan will line up at second five-eighth after Pita Ahki was also ruled out.

Canterbury have changed their entire team with the exception of centre Adam Whitelock, with the new backline featuring Mitchell Drummond, Richie Mo’unga and Ryan Crotty at 9, 10 and 12, while Rob Thompson, Nathanial Apa and Johnny McNicholl constitute the new back three.

Up front (from 1 to 8), Alex Hodgman, Codie Taylor, Siate Tokolahi, JJ Manning, Dominic Bird, Reed Prinsep, Jed Brown and Luke Whitelock provide the new Canterbury pack.

Form: Harbour have struggled but their solitary win of the season against Manawatu a fortnight ago lost some of its gloss with the side losing 32-7 to Auckland in a one-sided affair.

But while the team might have struggled with conditions and their finishing, they did spend long periods in the blue and white’s 22, but failure to take these opportunities has cost Harbour – scoring just ten tries so far in 2014.

Canterbury have been ominous for long periods throughout this competition but Otago and now Counties have revealed that the red and black machine is not quite as awesome as was initially believed.

Still to lose this season, this match is a test of the famed systems of the reigning ITM Cup champions, for ordinarily a team that makes so many changes can struggle, but in recent years players come and go and the side’s performance doesn’t seem to drop.

Key players: Bryn Hall and Dan Halangahu are one of the better playmaking axis operating in this competition, but without controlled fury from their pack the duo won’t receive much ball against a stellar Canterbury forward unit.

Tevita Li could be a dark horse on the field tonight, with Jackson admitting one of his young prodigies needs to get involved more, and if the young Under 20s star can achieve this from the left wing there could be fireworks.

Canterbury have Ryan Crotty’s experience in the midfield, even though the All Blacks second five-eighth is likely to be available for just one match, while Mo’unga is a late change after Tom Taylor was called up by the national selectors.

Dan Carter is likely to play for the champions next week.

The tourist’s head coach Scott Robertson will demand the team keep their standards despite all the changes, while the likes of skipper Whitelock and Bird will be asked to up the physical stakes after Counties late surge exposed a hint of an Achilles heel with their powerful late finish.