PREVIEW: Bay of Plenty v Auckland

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Saturday, September 24, 2016    Getty Images

Match details: Bay of Plenty v Auckland, 4.35pm, Sunday 25 September, Rotorua International Stadium

Played: 60 (1912-)
Wins: Bay of Plenty 12, Auckland 48
Last match: Auckland 27 Bay of Plenty 12 (2014)
Biggest winning margin: Auckland by 56 (65–9) in 1984

Despite only winning one game out of six, Bay of Plenty are locked in a three way battle with North Harbour and Southland for the final spot in the Championship playoffs. Auckland have won three games out of six but two of their losses have come by four points or less.

There’s good and bad news for Auckland with the long-awaited return of Melani Nania and Lolagi Visinia set to provide even more potency to their dangerous backline. In the forwards, Blake Gibson, Joe Edwards and Greg Pleasents-Tate are all out with injury and are replaced by Josh Kaifa, Marcel Renata and Kurt Eklund. The Steamers have also made a number of changes with a re-jigged midfield the main talking point. Dan Hollinshead has been moved to the bench with Teddy Stanaway shifting to second five-eighth and the exciting Lalakai Foketi returning from injury to claim the number thirteen jersey.

The return of explosive midfielder Lalakai Foketi is a huge boost to the Steamers. Foketi led the Mitre 10 Cup try scoring ladder early in the season with four tries before injury struck him down for a number of weeks. His battle with Rieko Ioane in the midfield will be crucial. Both players are hard defenders and have the ability to seemingly break the line at will. In the pack, lock Culum Retallick has been one of Bay of Plenty’s best this year and will be desperate to reclaim the John Drake Boot for his side.

Bay of Plenty: Isaac Te Aute, Regan Ware, Lalakai Foketi, Teddy Stanaway, Elijah Nicholas, Kelly Haimona, Ruki Tipuna, Joe Tupe, Hugh Blake, Shahn Eru, Culum Retallick, Keepa Mewett, Pingi Tala'apitaga, Liam Polwart, Aidan Ross; Reserves: James O'Reilly, Solomona Sakalia, Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, Joe Royal, Jesse Parete, Te Aihe Toma, Dan Hollinshead, Monty Ioane

Auckland: Melani Nanai, Lolagi Visinia, Rieko Ioane, Vince Aso, Joe Ravouvou, Simon Hickey (c), Jono Hickey, Akira Ioane, Josh Kaifa, Taleni Seu, Liaki Moli, Michael Fatialofa, Marcel Renata, Kurt Eklund, Tom McHugh; Reserves: Blake Hill, James Lay, Isi Tu'ungafasi, Ben Nee Nee, Scott Scrafton, Leon Fukofuka, Liam Steel, Latiume Fosita