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Match preview: Northland vs. Otago

Photosport

Thursday, September 15, 2005    allblacks.com    Photosport

Had Otago lost, making the semifinals would have become a difficult assignment.

As things currently stand, the southerners need to ensure they beat Northland if they are to keep up the pressure on the three sides above them on the points table.

Promisingly Otago’s injury issues are clearing. While stand-in skipper Craig Newby is still under a cloud, former All Blacks skipper Anton Oliver could be only a week away after getting through 20 minutes last Friday for the Otago B squad.

Oliver will play a longer stint for that side at Whangarei on Sunday, but could be back in the senior frame for Taranaki’s visit to Carisbrook on Saturday week if everything goes according to plan. All Blacks lock James Ryan returns against Northland although prop Carl Hayman is being given additional time to recharge.

Northland might have sunk to its 23rd consecutive Air New Zealand NPC Division One defeat in abysmal conditions against Canterbury last Saturday but new co-coach Donny Stevenson, who has come on board with Bryce Woodward, insists it is not all doom and gloom for the side.

“The morale is actually pretty good,” Stevenson said. “While we turned over a bit too much ball against Canterbury and they made us pay for that, the attitude was good and so was the commitment. If we can bring a little more accuracy to our game, and a dry day will help there, I’m sure we can give Otago a good go.”

Stevenson, who combined with Woodward to take Northland as high as sixth in the 1999 Air New Zealand NPC, paid tribute to the leadership of David Holwell in keeping the side together during a difficult period around last week’s resignation of former coach Bruce Hodder.

Teams
Otago: Glen Horton, Mike Maguire, Neil Brew, Seilala Mapusua, Matt Saunders, Nick Evans, Chris Smylie, Grant Webb, Josh Blackie, Craig Newby (captain), James Ryan, Tom Donnelly, Chris King, Jason Macdonald, Carl Hoeft.
Reserves: Peter Mirrielees, Grant Polson, Filipo Levi, Alando Soakai, Toby Morland, Callum Bruce, Craig Clare.

Northland: Manu-Burkhardt-Macrae, Mike Rowe, Jared Going, Josh Levi, Matt Faleuka, David Holwell (captain), John Senio, Luke Ottley, Allen Tubbs, Jake Paringatai, Brad Taylor, Isoa Domolailai, Stan Wright, Tim Dow, Bronson Murray.
Reserves: Simon Lemalu, Jamie Pinder, Mesake Davu, Buster Tahere, Corey Tamou, Daniel Bowden, Quin Butler.

Turning back the clock
Northland (or North Auckland as the union was known then) won four of its first six matches against Otago in the Air New Zealand NPC, but has not beaten the southerners in the competition for 23 years. The two unions’ first clash in the competition in 1976 ended in a 3-3 stalemate which resulted in North Auckland’s only championship points from a campaign that later ended in relegation. Northland were back in Division One two years later, and won three games on the trot against Otago from 1978-80 before the South Islanders finally got on the board at their fifth attempt with a 12-4 win in 1981. North Auckland beat Otago 32-4 the following year, but has now dropped 16 of the last 17 matches played between the two, with the exception being a 13-13 draw in 1989.

Northland vs. Otago, Whangarei
Kick-off: Sunday at 2.35pm
Referee: Kelvin Deaker (Hawke’s Bay)
TAB odds: Northland $6.00, Otago $1.11