Preview: Waikato v Taranaki (RS)

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Friday, September 16, 2016    Getty Images

Taranaki surrendered the Ranfurly Shield to Waikato in 2009 and 2012, and so Sunday is an opportunity for revenge.

Both teams are coming off victories and have conceded just one loss to date. For Taranaki, their 30-29 win in Pukekohe against Counties Manukau on Wednesday looked in serious doubt until the hosts missed a straightforward penalty in the last play of the game. The win was their second straight win, after defeating Southland (30-14) the week before. The Bulls have also had wins against Bay of Plenty (30-22) and Hawke’s Bay (55-28), with their only loss to date a 20-25 result against Tasman.

Tasman were also the only side that defeated Waikato this side. The Mooloos’ 19-24 loss in the opening, however, is their only blip to date and they have gone on to claim three consecutive wins over North Harbour (26-15), Manawatu (19-10) and Auckland (35-32) – the latter a more comfortable win than the scoreboard indicates. The first two of those victories were at home in Ranfurly Shield matches.

VENUE AND TIME: Sunday 18 September, 4.35pm, FMG Stadium Waikato
WINS: Waikato 42, Taranaki 32, six draws
LAST TIME: Taranaki 41, Waikato 0, New Plymouth 2015

Waikato: Unavailable at time of publication.

Taranaki: 1. Mitchell Graham, 2. Rhys Marshall, 3. Ryan Cocker, 4. Ben Matwijow, 5. Leighton Price, 6. Mitchell Brown, 7. Mitchell Crosswell, 8. Toa Halafihi, 9. Kylem O’Donnell, 10. Marty McKenzie, 11. Manasa Mataele, 12. Johnny Fa’auli 13. Sean Wainui, 14. Beaudein Waaka, 15. Stephen Perofeta.
Reserves: 16. Sione Lea, 17. Jared Proffit, 18. Reuben O’Neill, 19. Leon Power, 20. Lachlan Boshier, 21. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22. Seta Tamanivalu/Latu Vaeno, 23. Jackson Ormond.

SQUAD UPDATE: The Waikato squad was not available at the time of publish, but one player who won’t be playing for the rest of the season is Loni Uhila. The crowd favourite suffered a broken arm against Auckland to end his season. Damian McKenzie may also be unavailable as he remains with the All Blacks squad.

Taranaki have lost a number of key players this season to injury. Sitting on the sidelines for this clash is key forward Iopu Iopu-Aso, long with stalwart Berny Hall and Mike Kainga. There is still little news around a possible return for Charlie Ngatai, while Declan O’Donnell and Fin Hoeata are also unavailable through injury. Ben Matwijow returns to lock for the side, while Mitchell Brown starts in the No.6 jersey in the two changes to the Bulls forward pack. Manasa Mataele’s promotion to the left wing at the expense of O’Donnell is the only change in the backs for the Bulls.

KEY PLAYERS: Willis Halaholo is having another superb provincial season and will be desperate to illustrate his consistency before he heads offshore at the end of his term with the Mooloos. Jordan Trainor is continuing to show steady progress, and the former New Zealand Under 20 wing will be looking to illustrate his value in another Ranfurly Shield defence. The side’s best performing player, arguably, is halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who will be desperate to remind the All Black coaches of his abilities.

Marty McKenzie has been in terrific form for the Bulls and his selection ahead of promising talent Stephen Perofeta speaks to his composure. His partnership with Kylem O’Donnell – himself promoted over New Zealand Under 20 halfback Te Tohu Tahuriorangi – will be crucial for the visitors.