Preview: Auckland v Northland

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Friday, October 10, 2014    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Date: October 11, 7.35pm, Eden Park

Played: 113, Auckland won 76, Northland won 32, five drawn

Squad update: Auckland suffered a horrendous injury toll in their midweek outing against Counties Manukau. Worst off was flanker Joe Edwards who suffered a high ankle sprain and is likely to be out for four weeks or more. Wing George Moala, who was involved in a head clash with Ofa Tu'ungafasi, is being monitored for concussion symptoms. X-rays and scans were clear and there is a chance he could be available if Auckland qualify for the semi-finals. No.8 Peter Saili also had X-rays and scans which were clear but he will have more scans on Saturday. The side has been boosted by returning All Blacks Charles Piutau, Steve Luatua and Charlie Faumuina.

Form: Having dished out a record defeat over Waikato, Auckland turned around and suffered a record loss to Counties Manukau in midweek. That's 100-point turnaround which was compounded by injury losses to their three key players, Moala, Edwards and Peter Saili. However, returning All Blacks should at least offer some experience if lacking the teamwork awareness of the home side. But a similar attitude to that demonstrated in Pukekohe where Auckland were looking for bonus points before they were even in a position of strength leaves them vulnerable to Northland who have been a very good team this year. They come into the game off two wins, including an impressive 58-27 over North Harbour.

Auckland's recent results have been:
Round 5 - beat Bay of Plenty 27-12
Round 6 – beat North Harbour 32-7
Round 7 – lost to Taranaki 22-35
Round 8 – beat Waikato 60-19
Round 9 – lost to Counties Manukau 18-41

Northland's recent results have been:
Round 5 – beat Otago 40-23
Round 6 – lost to Southland 34-36
Round 7 – lost to Taranaki 20-31
Round 8 – beat Bay of Plenty 30-27
Round 9 – beat North Harbour 58-27

Key Players: Auckland have to make a significant turnaround if they are to ensure themselves the chance of claiming a semi-final berth. Steven Luatua shapes as a significant force as Auckland look to contain Northland in the loose. Sean Polwart has been impressive in scrapping for ball while Blake Gibson has to step up in Saili's absence. The front five face a tough contest as well while the key men in the backs have to be first five-eighths Gareth Anscombe, fullback Lolagi Visinia and left wing Charles Piutau.

Daniel Hawkins' goal-kicking this year has been outstanding for his side and goals landed are a confidence boost for any side. Hawkins has kicked at 84 percent, the best in the competition, for his 118 points. Fullback Mat Wright has also been a good performer for the side with five tries so far this year. But it is in the loose forwards the greatest danger lies with Dan and Kara Pryor teaming up with Jack Ram to make a potent combination who will be looking for openings in the Auckland defences.