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Preview: North Harbour v Canterbury

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Friday, September 18, 2015    ItmCup.co.nz    Getty Images

Canterbury, though, will be making sure their tilt at an unbeaten season doesn’t fall at the expense of North Harbour for the second time in two years.

Form: After a slow start to the season with losses to Bay of Plenty (11-20) and Wellington (0-43), North Harbour have hit their straps with two wins in their last three matches. They illustrated their class with a 21-point second half against Counties Manukau that saw them claim a 28-20 victory at Pukekohe, their second win in the last three games. They’ve also claimed a last-gasp 26-25 win over Southland and played a significant part in 32-48 away loss to Hawke’s Bay. Canterbury, meanwhile, looked dangerous in their last clash against the then-Championship leading Hawke’s Bay. Their 29-14 win in Christchurch included a number of aggressive defensive lines that caught the Magpies by surprise and by half-time, their 22-0 lead meant the game was as good as theirs. The win continued Canterbury’s unbeaten run this season, following wins over Otago (38-24), Counties Manukau (20-15), Auckland (27-21) and Manawatu (57-7).

Played: 27

Wins: North Harbour 7, Canterbury 17, Draws 3

Last match: North Harbour 29, Canterbury 24, Albany 2014

Teams:
NORTH HARBOUR (likely): 1.Nic Mayhew, 2.James Parsons (captain), 3.Sione Mafileo, 4.Gerard Tuioti-Mariner, 5.Hayden Triggs, 6.Christopher Vui, 7.James Doyle, 8.Hapakuki Moala-Liavaa, 9.Bryn Hall, 10.Danie Halangahu, 11.Tevita Li, 12.Michael Little, 13.Matt Vaega, 14.Nafi Tuitavake, 15.Matt McGahan.

Reserves: 16.Ray Niuia, 17.Adrian Smith, 18.Alex Woonton, 19.Jordan Manihera, 20.Josh Blucher, 21.David Bason, 22.Josh Rowland, 23.Junior Va’a Tofa.

CANTERBURY: 1.Joe Moody, 2.Ben Funnell, 3.Nepo Laulala, 4.Mitchell Dunshea, 5.Dominic Bird, 6.Tom Sanders, 7.Matt Todd, 8.Luke Whitelock (captain), 9.Mitchell Drummond, 10.Richie Mo’unga, 11.Marshall Suckling, 12.Rob Thompson, 13.Ryan Crotty, 14.Johnny McNicholl, 15.Tom Taylor.

Reserves: 16. Ged Robinson, 17.Alex Hodgman, 18.Siate Tokolahi, 19.Ben Matwijow, 20.Reed Prinsep, 21.Jack Stratton, 22.Cameron McIntyre, 23.Milford Keresoma.

Squad Update: North Harbour's side was unavailable at the time of publishing, however it's understood there are no new serious injuries to report. Canterbury, meanwhile, have promoted Marshall Suckling to the left wing while Tulolo Tulolo plies his Rugby World Cup trade with Samoa.

Key Players: North Harbour’s Matt McGahan again features as a key player for Harbour as he had done in 2014 when they defeated Canterbury. McGahan is likely to feature at fullback and will benefit from the space in front of him, while his attacking options in Tevita Li and Nafi Tuitavake have explosive capabilities and can create something out of nothing. Canterbury are laden with talent, with the likes of Nepo Laulala, Dominic Bird, Matt Todd, Ryan Crotty and Tom Taylor all featuring for the All Blacks in their careers. One of the more impressive players of late, however, is second five-eighths Rob Thompson and should thrive should the weather allow for some quality running rugby.