Preview: Northland v Bay of Plenty

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Thursday, September 24, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: The home team are 0-6 after the first half of the 2015 season, they have lost 42-17 to Manawatu and Counties over the last fortnight and need a victory or two to give their campaign some pride.

They cannot make the top four at this stage of the season.

They defeated the Steamers last year and have won 33 of the 56 games played between the two sides, but Northland, who had a solid 2014 with five wins from 10 matches during the regular season, have been the victims of a significant injury toll this time around.

They have just four matches, and two at Toll Stadium, remaining for the 2015 campaign, and for the bulk of the season have been forced to make a huge amount of tackles while facing heavy deficits in terms of possession and territory.

Bay of Plenty on the other hand will be happy with their year which continued with a narrow 17-23 loss in Napier during round six, a close defeat that almost saw the Steamers walk away with the Ranfurly Shield.

With three wins in seven matches only Hawke’s Bay and Wellington sit above them on the table, but only four competition points separate third and sixth place on the Championship table so the top four is still uncertain coming into the final three weekends of the regular season.

Friday 25 September, 7.35pm at Toll Stadium, Whangarei
Played: 56, 1950-2014
Bay of Plenty wins: 22 | Northland wins: 33 | Draws: 1

Last match: Northland 30 Bay of Plenty 27, 25.09.14 (ITMC)
Last Bay of Plenty win: Bay of Plenty 31 Northland 19, 30.09.12 in Mt Maunganui (ITMC)
Biggest Bay of Plenty score: 51 (51-3), 08.10.05 in Mt Maunganui (NPC)
Biggest Northland score: 49 (49-23), 28.09.02 in Whangarei (NPC)
Biggest differential: Bay of Plenty by 48 (51-3), 08.10.05 in Mt Maunganui (NPC)

Squad update: Northland’s injury toll hasn’t eased with Dan O Rourke, Dave Thomas, Warren Dunn, Isimeli Taqea and Dan Bowden all still in the casualty ward.

Still, head coach Richie Harris has not had to rule out Dan Pryor, with the industrious flanker having to undergo a concussion Test during round six.

This week the symptoms were fading with each passing day this week and the experienced Taniwha – Pryor plays his 50th game this evening – will be crucial for the host’s chances.

Shane Neville has overcome injury concerns is the only change in the home team’s forward pack while out wide Dave Thomas drops out of the starting XV and is replaced at centre by Jordan Hyland, who started on the right wing last weekend against Counties – resulting in Filipo Nakosi getting the nod at 14 for this clash.

Bay of Plenty are without the inspirational Culum Retallick, which means that Johan Bardoul comes into the starting XV while openside flanker Zak Hohneck assumes the captaincy.

The forward unit is otherwise unchanged.

In the back division no alterations have been made by head coach Clayton McMillan, giving the men out wide who were solid in their six-point loss to Magpies a chance to secure the Steamers a playoff berth.

Key players: Things are beginning to get desperate for Northland as they chase their first victory of the 2015 season, and while the Steamers have noted the winless Taniwha are better than their results suggest, at times the hosts have been their own worst enemies.

Cutting out their error rate and gaining parity with opposition packs with be central to this, so the tight five, led by the likes of Matt Moulds and Under 20s lock Josh Goodhue, will be keen to exert some dominance – their scrum completion rate is just 80 but the only team ranked below them here is the Steamers with 78 percent.

Out wide Sam Nock and Dan Hawkins will want to put in their best displays of the season with the side crossing for just seven tries this year. Clean breaks, carries and metres are stark reminders of the Taniwha’s inability to get going in 2015, they are ranked 15th overall in these three offensive catagories.

The Steamers bring a confident outfit that has seen the likes of Nathan Harris and Keepa Mewett stand up and be counted during this campaign, while Shahn Eru and former De La Salle number eight Joe Tupe have been lively and were strong performers against the Magpies last week.

Nick Evemy had a fascinating duel with Hawke’s Bay pivot Ihaia West last weekend so expect another good showing from the first five-eighth, he scored a crucial try last week but did leave six points on the field via missed kicks – the eventual margin between the teams.

With 14 tries this year, Bay of Plenty like their opponents have not found points easy to come by.

Despite sitting third on the ITM Cup Championship table they have a -47 point’s difference so Chase Tiatia and Tino Nemani will be keen to look for the chalk if the Steamers are to feature during the playoff stages.