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Preview: Auckland v Northland

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Friday, October 2, 2015    ITMCup.co.nz    Getty Images

The hosts have enjoyed a six-year dominance over the visitors and, barring a monumental upset, should go some way to maintaining that record.

Form: It's fair to say the flair and panache that had summed up Auckland's ITM Cup season evaded them in Napier last week. Their flat performance resulted in a disappointing 12-17 defeat to Hawke's Bay that doubled as a failed Ranfurly Shield challenge. The five-point loss snapped a four-game winning streak that included victories over Tasman (28-19), Otago (35-29), Manawatu (45-28) and Waikato (50-28). A big victory over Northland would help the hosts, who sit on 28 points, keep the heat on Canterbury (33 points) and Tasman (30 points) at the top of the Premiership ladder.

Northland's season has already been one to forget. Zero bonus points. Zero competition points. Points have been hard to come by for the visitors, scoring just 74 points across seven matches. They’re in serious danger of becoming the first New Zealand provincial side to go winless throughout a season since Counties Manukau in the 2007 Air New Zealand Cup. The visitors' recent form isn't worth writing home about, either. They've conceded 121 points in three games while scoring 39 in the process in defeats to Bay of Plenty (5-37), Counties Manukau (17-42) and Manawatu (17-42). It could be a rough night on Saturday for the Taniwha against their southern neighbours.

Played: 114
Wins: Auckland 77, Northland 32
Draws: 5
Last Time: Auckland 38 Northland 10, Auckland 2014

Teams:
AUCKLAND: 1.Sam Prattley, 2.Greg Pleasants-Tate, 3.Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 4.Michael Fatialofa, 5.Scott Scrafton, 6.Joe Edwards, 7.Mitch Karpik, 8.Akira Ioane, 9.Leon Fukofuka, 10.Simon Hickey (captain), 11.Lolagi Visinia, 12.George Moala, 13.Charles Piutau, 14.Ben Lam, 15.Melani Nanai.

Reserves: 16.Kirk Eklund, 17.Isi Tu’ungafasi, 18. Marcel Renata, 19.Taleni Seu, 20.Matt Matich, 21.Jono Hickey, 22.Calvary Fonoti, 23.Bryce Heem.

NORTHLAND (likely): 1.Howard Silitoto, 2.Jordan Olsen, 3.Namatahi Waa, 4.Joshua Goodhue, 5.Mike Stolberg, 6.Shane Neville, 7.Kara Pryor, 8.Dan Pryor, 9.Sam Nock, 10.Daniel Hawkins, 11.Jone Macilai-Tori, 12.Troy Gilbert, 13.Jordan Hyland, 14.Filipo Nakosi, 15.Matt Wright.

Reserves: 16.Ross Wright, 17.Matias Narvaez, 18.Matt Talaese, 19.Taniela Manu, 20.Jaycob Matiu, 21.Kurt Davies, 22.Tyler Lansdowne, 23.Waisea Lawebuka.

Squad Update: Auckland have made a number of changes following their failed Ranfurly Shield challenge. Michael Fatialofa returns from suspension, while Leon Fukofuka plays his first ITM Cup game of the season after recovering from shoulder surgery. His elevation results in Jono Hickey dropping to the bench. Also elevated to the starting lineup are Melani Nanai and Lolagi Visinia. Northland’s squad was unavailable at the time of publishing.

Key Players: You can never go past Akira Ioane when you’re looking for players that continually make an impact. But he’s one of many stars in an Auckland side looking to claim its 17th provincial title. If the likes of George Moala, Charles Piutau and Ben Lam get going, there could a fairly lengthy highlights reel come the end of the match.

As for Northland, the ever-reliable Pryor brothers Dan and Kara will go some way to ensuring there’s a battle at the breakdown with their more fancied opponents. Wing Jone Macilai-Tori also has the potential to impress if given the space and vision.