Preview: North Harbour v Manawatu

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Thursday, September 8, 2016    Getty Images

FORM: North Harbour should be buoyed by the fact they were able to keep the patchy Wellington tryless last week, but ill discipline ultimately cost them in a game they lost 17-21. It was the side's second consecutive loss after going down 15-26 to Waikato in their Ranfurly Shield challenge. The Championship side does have the solitary victory so far, a 20-17 home win against Premiership outfit Counties Manukau to start the season.

Manawatu's season can be summarised by the phrase, 'a game of two halves'. They started with a 34-27 win over Northland, but needed a strong second half in order to overcome a 17-19 halftime deficit. A week later, they gave up a 24-0 lead and looked to be heading for a 31-31 draw with Southland, only for Otere Black to kick a penalty goal after the final hooter to win the game. Last week, they held a 10-9 lead at the break in their Ranfurly Shield challenge against Waikato, before the hosts pulled away and won 19-10.

MATCH DETAILS: North Harbour v Manawatu, 2.35pm Saturday 10 September, Albany
WINS: North Harbour 12, Manawatu 5
LAST TIME: North Harbour 17 Manawatu 31 (2015) in Palmerston North

North Harbour: 1. Nic Mayhew, 2. James Parsons (captain), 3. Sione Mafileo, 4. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5. Brendon Nansen, 6. Josh Tyrell, 7. Connor Collett, 8. Murphy Taramai, 9. Bryn Hall, 10. Bryn Gatland, 11. Tevita Li, 12. Michael Little, 13. Matt Vaega, 14. Mark Telea, 15. Matt Duffie.

Reserves: 16. Byron Smith, 17. Adrian Smith, 18. Karl Tu'inukuafe, 19. Glen Preston, 20. Hapakuki Moala-Liavaa, 21. Chris Smylie, 22. Matt McGahan, 23. Daniel Hilton-Jones.

Manawatu: Unavailable before deadline.

SQUAD UPDATE: Gerard Cowley-Tuioti returns to the starting lineup, as does Bryn Gatland at first five-eighths and Mark Telea lines up on the right wing. Lock Chris Vui has been sidelined with a finger injury.

Manawatu's side was unavailable before the deadline.

KEY PLAYERS: Michael Little continues to be an important part of North Harbour's miserly attack - he has scored two of the side's six tries within the three games. Centre Matt Vaega will be looking to continue a solid start to his 2016 season that includes six line breaks and 13 defenders beaten. The only positive for the hosts so far is their tackling percentage, at 87.4 percent, and scrum success percentage, at 100 percent, are the best in the competition. They may be miserly on attack, but they're miserly on defence, too.

However, the 'Bryn twins' Hall and Gatland will have it all to do if they're to overcome the impressive Otere Black. The Manawatu first five-eighths has been in impressive form with the kicking tee, converting 42 of the side's 43 tries over the last two seasons at a conversion success rate of over 97 percent.

THE VERDICT: North Harbour will need to cut down on their error rate if they're to stay in this one. Black's lethal boot will ensure the Turbos are able to capitalise on any infringements in their own half, particularly as the dust continues to settle on the new competition laws. North Harbour will be wary, however, of Manawatu's glaringly inconsistent halves of rugby and should look to defence as their best form of attack. It could be another tight one in store, and Manawatu should be too good, but we're tipping North Harbour by 3 thanks to their superiority on defence and at set piece time.