PREVIEW: North Harbour v Otago
Wednesday, August 16, 2017 allblacks.com Getty Images
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North Harbour have balanced out the loss of last year’s stand out back Michael Little and captain Chris Vui with the addition of former Waikato speedster Shaun Stevenson, Fijian pivot Ben Volavola and former All Black Jarrad Hoeta for the 2017 season. Stevenson and Hoeata have been named to start while Volavola is on the bench with Bryn Gatland in the ten jersey. Otago have named an almost identical side to the one that played throughout the 2016 campaign with All Blacks Sevens star Vilimoni Koroi the only debutant in the starting side at fullback and youngsters Josh Ioane and Jona Nareki set to make their debut from the bench.
It was a thriller last time the sides met with a last minute drop-goal sealing the game in the 2016 Championship final.
Matt Faddes has been one of the form players in domestic rugby for the past couple of seasons and will be looking to stamp his mark early in 2017. His combination with the talented Tei Walden in the midfield will be one of Otago’s strengths this season and could hold the key to their Championship title hopes. For North Harbour, their back-three will be sure to provide plenty of fireworks throughout the season. Shaun Stevenson (Chiefs), Matt Duffie (Blues) and Tevita Li (Highlanders) provided many highlights for their respective Investec Super Rugby teams this season and will be even more dangerous when linked up for North Harbour.
As far as early season games go, there is plenty riding on this one. For Otago, they would have spent a big part of the summer ruing their last minute loss to North Harbour in the Championship final and will be out for revenge. North Harbour were written off in 2016 and went on to prove all the doubters wrong. The same doubters are suggesting that North Harbour could be one-year wonders in the Premiership so they will be highly motivated to start their season strongly. In a game that could go either way, we are picking North Harbour to have the slight edge at home.
North Harbour: 15: Shaun Stevenson 14: Matt Duffie (Co-captain) 13: Matt Vaega 12: Hilton James 11: Tevita Li 10: Bryn Gatland 9: Chris Smylie 8: Murphy Taramai 7: Connor Collett 6: Glenn Preston 5: Jarrad Hoeata 4: Gerard Cowley-Tuioti 3: Michael Tamoaieta 2: James Parsons (Co-captain) 1: Chris Eves
Reserves: 16: Adrian Smith 17: Mark Royal 18: Sione Mafileo 19: Brandon Nansen 20: Josh Tyrell 21: Lewis Gjaltema 22: Mark Telea 23: Ben Volavola
Otago: 15: Vilimoni Koroi 14: Mitchell Scott 13: Matt Faddes 12: Tei Walden 11: Sio Tomkinson 10: Fletcher Smith 9: Josh Renton 8: Sione Teu 7: James Lentjes 6: Dillon Hunt, 5: Tom Rowe 4: Blair Tweed 3: Donald Brighouse 2: Sam Anderson¬-Heather (captain) 1: Aki Seiuli.
Reserves: Sekonaia Pole, Craig Millar, Giorgio Bower, Josh Dickson, Adam Knight, Jonathan Ruru, Josh Ioane, Jona Nareki.
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