Preview: Auckland v Waikato

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Thursday, October 2, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Thursday 2 October, 7.35pm at Eden Park, Auckland
Played: 137, 1922-2013
Auckland wins: 93 | Waikato wins: 39 | Draws: 5

Squad update: Auckland coach Paul Feeney has made just the one change after his team were beaten 35-22 by Taranaki, the blue and whites second loss of the season.

Lock William Lloyd comes into the team, after Liaki Moli was ruled out with concussion, while Francis Saili, Blake Gibson and Wayne Ngaluafe have been named on the bench.

Waikato has revealed an unchanged starting lineup, with the the only alterations to the matchday 22 seeing prop James McGougan return from suspension to take a spot on the bench.

Loose forward Josh Tyrell comes in for Shayne Anderson while uncapped halfback Troy Lobendahn will get another chance to make his Waikato debut after watching on from the bench against Manawatu on Saturday.

Form: Auckland at their best have been lethal this season, as seen when running riot against North Harbour two rounds ago with a 32-7 win.

Defensively sound, the home team’s 15 tries scored in seven matches doesn’t compare favourably with the other contenders, so if their attack can fire they will be confident on winning their 94th match against Waikato and first since 2012.

The Mooloo, with one of the youngest squads in the competition, has been electric, but with five losses, the visitors will be hungry to stop a two match losing streak and keep their final’s hopes alive.

The Stan Thomas Trophy is on the line, which Waikato currently hold after their impressive 18 point victory over Auckland in Hamilton last year.

Last match: Waikato 42 Auckland 24, 14.09.13 in Hamilton (ITMC)

Last Auckland win: Auckland 32 Waikato 22, 08.09.12 in Auckland (ITMC)

Biggest Auckland score: 50 (50-4), 25.08.84 in Hamilton (NPC)

Biggest Waikato score: 59 (59-11), 28.08.04 in Hamilton (NPC)

Biggest differential: Waikato by 48 (59-11), 28.08.04 in Hamilton (NPC)

Key players: If Auckland’s abrasive pack, filled with power players like Peter Saili, Patrick Tuipulotu and Ofa Tu’ungafasi, can get on top of their youthful Mooloo opposites then the home team could excite Eden Park in their penultimate regular season home game.

George Moala and Ben Lam have been explosive in small doses, but Gareth Anscombe will want to take control of proceedings as he is up against arguably the most dynamic back division in the ITM Cup.

Damian McKenzie, yet another exciting first five-eighth showing his wares in the tournament, has Under 20s team-mate Anton Lienert-Brown playing alongside him, while out wide Joe Webber and Jordan Payne bring the string.

Waikato’s forwards, very solid against Manawatu during their 22-20 loss, have another chance to shine, and look for ‘old heads’ like Luke Katene and Zac Hohneck to stand up to what will be an onslaught from Auckland in the tight exchanges.