Preview: Taranaki v Waikato

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Thursday, September 17, 2015    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

With time starting to run out as sides head toward the play-offs wins now are vital and with an extra game played, Taranaki need the points to keep the title defence alive.

Form: Three wins apiece have been achieved by Taranaki and Waikato, but Taranaki has played one more game. Taranaki made a slow start to the competition in losing their first three games but winning their last three. They have played two premiership opponents to date, losing to Auckland 24-30 and beating Counties Manukau 17-10. They lost their first game to Wellington 14-19 and since the Counties game strong 50-7 and 32-9 wins have been posted over Northland and Bay of Plenty respectively.

Waikato has played three premiership sides so far, losing to Tasman 20-35 and Auckland 28-50 but beating Manawatu 28-21. Their most recent win was a close 30-25 win over Southland.

Played: 79

Wins: Taranaki 31, Waikato 42

Last match: Taranaki 46 Waikato 17, Hamilton 2014

TARANAKI: 1.Mitchell Graham, 2.Rhys Marshall, 3. Angus Ta'avao, 4.Mitchell Brown, 5.Blade Thomson, 6.Mitchell Crosswell, 7.Berny Hall, 8.Toa Halafihi, 9.Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 10.Marty McKenzie, 11.Latu Vaeno, 12.Charlie Ngatai (captain), 13.Seta Taimanivalu, 14. Codey Rei, 15.Kurt Baker.

Reserves: 16. Hika Elliot, 17.Sione Lea, 18.Ryan Cocker, 19.Riki Hoeata, 20.Lachlan Boshier, 21.Kylem O'Donnell, 22.Sean Wainui, 23.Jackson Ormond.

WAIKATO: 1.Loni Uhila, 2.Hame Faiva, 3.Josh Hohneck, 4.James Tucker, 5.David Morgan, 6.Whetu Douglas, 7.Zane Kapeli, 8.Adam Burn, 9.Brad Weber, 10.Wharenui Hawera, 11.Shaun Stevenson, 12.Jordan Payne, 13.Anton Lienert-Brown, 14.Regan Ware,15.Damian McKenzie.

Reserves: 16.Tyrone Te Ruruku, 17.Atu Moli, 18.Ben Tameifuna, 19.Josh Tyrell, 20.Murray Iti, 21.Harrison Levien, 22.Stephen Donald/Chauncy Edwardson, 23.Dylan Collier.

Squad Update: Marty McKenzie has returned to first five-eighths for Taranaki after recovering from an ankle injury. Codey Rei has switched to the wing with Jackson Ormond dropping to the bench. Lock Mitchell Brown has come into the side with Riki Hoeata dropping to the reserves. Taranaki are still without the services of lock James Broadhurst who has been suffering concussion since the opening game of the competition but there is better news with No.8 Iopu Iopu-Aso likely to make an earlier return from his shoulder injury than was anticipated.

Waikato have named Damian McKenzie at fullback for this game, avoiding a clash with his brother at first five-eighths. That has allowed Wharenui Hawera to come back at first five-eighths. Usual fullback Shaun Stevenson will play on the wing while Regan Ware will make his first appearance of the season on Declan O'Donnell's wing. O'Donnell broke his little finger last round and will be out for up to a month. Loni Uhila in their front row with Ben Tameifuna dropping to the reserves. David Morgan will play lock as a result of Jacob Skeen suffering concussion. Stephen Donald has been bracketed in the reserves as a consequence of a hamstring injury which is believed to be on the mend. Josh Tyrell will cover lock from the bench while Murray Iti has been named as loose forward cover.

Key Players: Charlie Ngatai's class is starting to show out for Taranaki as they make a late run for the semi-finals berths and his class and experience will be important in denying Waikato opportunities. Seta Tamanivalu has been running strongly and with Marty McKenzie calling the shots at first five-eighths there should be plenty of running from Taranaki. The two teams look similar in terms of forward resources and it shapes as a key area of the game. The side that can dominance up front can expect to set the pace throughout.