PREVIEW: Canterbury v North Harbour (RS)

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Form: Apart from their 13-19 loss to Manawatu Canterbury have been carrying all before them in their defence of the national title and while games of more recent weeks have been closer, 45-34 over Otago, 29-23 over Waikato and 39-34 over Taranaki, Canterbury have retained their winning touch. North Harbour have found more consistency this season and have won three of their last four games. They beat Manawatu 29-25, lost to Otago 13-24, beat Southland 35-14 and beat Bay of Plenty 44-34.

Played: 28

Wins: Canterbury 18, North Harbour 7, Drawn 3

Last match: Canterbury 17 North Harbour 10, Albany 2015

Canterbury: 1.Daniel Lienert-Brown, 2.Ben Funnell, 3.Oli Jager, 4.Scott Barrett, 5.David McDuling, 6.Tom Sanders, 7.Jed Brown, 8.Luke Whitelock, 9.Ere Enari, 10.Richie Mo'unga, 11.George Bridge, 12.Jordie Barrett, 13.Jack Goodhue, 14.Nathan Earle, 15.Johnny McNicholl.

Substitutes: 16.Nathan Vella, 17.Alex Hodgman, 18.Siate Tokalahi, 19.Hamish Dalzell, 20.Reed Prinsep, 21.Jack Stratton, 22.Inga Finau, 23.Ben Volovola.

North Harbour: 1.Adrian Smith, 2.Vyron Smith, 3.Sione Mafileo, 4.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5.Chris Vui, 6.Glen Preston, 7.Connor Collett, 8.Murphy Taramai, 9.Chris Smylie, 10.Bryn Gatland, 11.Tevita Li, 12.Michael Little, 13.Matt Vaega, 14.Matt Duffie, 15.Matt McGahan.

Substitutes: 16.Kalem Chan Boon, 17.Hani Fatai, 18.Jody Allen, 19.Josh Tyrell, 20.Kane Jacobson, 21.Bryn Hall, 22.Daniel Hilton-Jones, 23.Afa Faatau.

Squad Update: Canterbury have five changes to their side which beat Taranaki on Sunday. Ben Funnell returns at hooker with Nathan Vella on the bench. Oli Jager will start with Siate Tokolahi on the bench. Flanker Tom Sanders returns to the blindside of the scrum with Reed Prinsep on the bench while Ere Enari and Richie Mo'unga will be paired once again at halfback and first five-eighths. Lock Hamish Dalzell is set to make his Canterbury debut from the bench.

North Harbour are without prop Nic Mayhew with Adrian Smith moving from hooker to prop and Vyron Smith coming off the bench to hook. In the replacements Kalen Chan Boon will cover hooker while Jody Allen replaces Jethro Felemi.

Key Players: Canterbury's tight five face an emerging North Harbour unit but with experience to call on. Ben Funnell and Daniel Lienert-Brown in the front row and Scott Barrett at lock provide the solidity that will make life tough for the visitors. The backline continues to impress with wing George Bridge capable of popping up anywhere in the backline to apply pressure while Jordie Barrett and Jack Goodhue in the centres will be a good test for their North Harbour rivals Michael Little and Matt Vaega. Captain and lock Chris Vui has been a solid performer for North Harbour and will be looking for his loosemen to perform against the more experienced Canterbury line-up. But if good ball can be provided Tevita Li, Matt Duffie and Matt McGahan are more than capable of sending it back with interest.