Preview: Bay of Plenty v Northland

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Thursday, September 25, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Thursday 25 September, 7.35pm at ASB Baypark, Tauranga
Played: 55, 1950-2013
Northland wins: 32 | Bay of Plenty wins: 22 | Draws: 1

Squad update: Tino Nemani has been suspended for two weeks so will miss this clash, but captain Culum Retallick – the other Steamers player to receive a card against the Magpies – will line up in the second row.

For coach Kevin Schuler making mass changes will not be the solution, as he knows his team can compete, but cutting down on the penalties while converting more of their own (the team averages less than 60% from the tee) will be a priority.

Northland have lost captain Cam Eyre with a knee injury, resulting in Dan Pryor being handed the captain’s armband in a back row featuring brother Kara and the wonderfully named blindside flanker Miracle Tulua Taito. Ross Wright will play his 50th game for the team.

Dan Hawkins continues to operate at first five-eighth but will need a strong combination with his halfback Sonatane Takulua if they are to add to the 19 tries they have scored this season.

Form: The Steamers have been their own worst enemies for long periods of the season, and while a heavy missed tackle count, a red and a yellow and a poor evening with the boot were notable against Hawke’s Bay against the odds they remained in the fight.

However a triumph at home is necessary if Bay of Plenty are to avoid a potential wooden spoon.

The last time the teams met in Tauranga it was a handsome 31-19 victory to the home side but the Taniwha look a different beast in 2014.

Indeed, Northland are hunting not only a spot in the top four of the ITM Cup Championship, but are well poised to make a break for a home semi-final if Hawke’s Bay and Manawatu drop a game in the coming weeks.

The Taniwha’s 31-20 loss to Taranaki showed again how competitive the Northlanders have become this season but it was their fourth defeat and second in a row so victory will be crucial against one of the competition’s strugglers.

Last match: Northland 20 Bay of Plenty 19, 12.10.13 in Whangarei (ITMC)

Last Bay of Plenty win: Bay of Plenty 31 Northland 19, 30.09.12 in Mt Maunganui (ITMC)

Biggest Bay of Plenty score: 51 (51-3), 08.10.05 in Mt Maunganui (NPC)

Biggest Northland score: 49 (49-23), 28.09.02 in Whangarei (NPC)

Biggest differential: Bay of Plenty by 48 (51-3), 08.10.05 in Mt Maunganui (NPC)

Key players: Joe Royal, Mike Kainga and Johan Bardoul were prominent figures against Hawke’s Bay, and it has been a bright spot for the Steamers to watch their enthusiastic forwards take the fight too their often illustrious opposites.

However the spotlight must fall on centre Nic Evemy who will be desperate to find his radar this week. The great cliché that rugby is won up front is well challenged by the fact you must kick points to win matches.

Northland’s injuries are not helping, the ruling out of Eyre was not greeted well as one of the team’s best players in Jack Ram is still on the sidelines.

Yet if Matthew Moulds, John Willgriff and half centurion Wright can do the business against the Steamers front row – then the likes of Jone Macilai and Filipo Nakosi on the wings could thrive against the worst defence in the ITM Cup by point’s conceded.