Preview: Waikato v Manawatu

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Saturday, September 27, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday 27 September, 2.35pm at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Played: 25, 1921-2011(DNP 2012/13)
Manawatu wins: 5 | Waikato wins: 18 | Draws: 2

Squad update: With Waikato needing to win to stay alive, the selectors have resisted wholesale changes, with only one alteration to the starting side.

Lock Luke Katene has recovered from injury and takes his spot in the second row with Nick Ross moving back to the bench.

Uncapped prop Richard Johnston has been called up to the bench from the Waikato Development squad in place of James McGougan who has been handed a one week suspension while halfback Troy Lobendahn comes onto the bench for a potential Waikato debut.

Manawatu like their rivals have resisted making any major changes, but they have opted for Jade Te Rure at first five-eighth, with Otere Black moving to the bench.

The pack remains unchanged with three players bringing up milestones. Tighthead prop Ma’afu Fia will play his 100th first class match, lock Fraser Stone will bring up his half century, while Antonio Kiri Kiri will bring up 20 games in the ITM Cup.

Form: Waikato are still in touch with the Premiership top four, but the form of teams like Canterbury, Taranaki and Tasman means that the Mooloo cannot afford a defeat from here on in if they are to reach the semi-finals.

The 38-7 defeat to Otago was the third time this season the side have been on the receiving end of a heavy score line, so while victory over a Championship province will be required, their only success over a side in the ‘lower division’ in 2014 was a 22-16 win over Harbour.

Manawatu are seeking a home semi-final and potential promotion to the Premiership and so they should be with an impressive season so far that has yielded five wins from seven matches.

While Waikato dominates the head to head with 18 wins in 25 matches, Manawatu’s last match against the Mooloo saw them run riot with a 54-20 victory in Palmerston North back in 2011.

Last match: Manawatu 54 Waikato 20, 20.08.11 in Palmerston North (ITMC)

Last Waikato win: Waikato 27 Manawatu 25, 14.10.10 in Palmerston North (ITMC)

Biggest Manawatu score: 54 (54-20), 20.08.11 in Palmerston North (ITMC)

Biggest Waikato score: 52 (52-15), 27.03.93 in Palmerston North (NPC)

Biggest differential: Waikato by 37 (52-15), 27.03.93 in Palmerston North (NPC)

Key players: Waikato have one of the most dynamic backlines in the competition, but their ability to produce the fireworks hasn’t been consistent so a big effort will be needed against the dangerous Turbos.

Damian McKenzie and Brad Weber have been in solid touch in the halves, but one of the least experienced Waikato packs in recent memory will need to stand up to provide the necessary fast ball, so look for huge efforts from the likes of Whetu Douglas, Zac Hohneck and Adam Burn in the back row.

Manawatu possess so many threats out wide, with their depth exemplified by the likes of Te Rure and Black, while Kayne Hammington starts ahead of the equally electric Jamie Booth at nine.

Yet number eight Nick Crosswell will need to get the most out of his forwards if Manawatu are to keep their position on top of the Championship table, while Mike Fitzgerald will look to generate his usual impact from the second row.