Preview: Waikato v North Harbour

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Saturday, October 7, 2017    Getty Images

Waikato v North Harbour, FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton, 4.35pm

Samisoni Taukei'aho has been promoted to the starting hooker position for Waikato, with Sekope Lopeti on the bench. James Tucker assumes the captaincy in place for the unavailable Dwayne Sweeney, while Tevita Taufui takes the latter's spot at second five-eighths. Matty Lansdown gets his opportunity in the No.10 jersey, with Sam Christie moving to the bench. They will face a tough prospect in a North Harbour side that has most of its frontline players back. Hooker James Parsons returns for North Harbour, as does lock Gerard Cowley-Tuioti and No.8 Kuki Moala-Liava'a. Halfback Chris Smylie and first five-eighths Ben Volavola return to the bench to make way for Bryn Hall and Bryn Gatland respectively.

Games: 35
Wins: Waikato 23, North Harbour 11, Draws 2
Last Time: Waikato 26, North Harbour 15 (Ranfurly Shield, 2016)

Both sides are relatively even when it comes to the all-important statistical battle. North Harbour (28) and Waikato (25) have a similar unmber of tries, while the visitors also have the edge with clean breaks, with 96 compared to 93 for Waikato. The hosts have a tendency to carry the ball more than their opponents, with 1,032 carries this season compared to North Harbour who have had 840 carries. Waikato (176) have also beaten more defenders than North Harbour (151). However it's where the points are scored where North Harbour have the edge, scoring 252 points to Waikato who have notched up 168 points.

Relegation is not the only thing that will be haunting Waikato as they prepare for Sunday's crucial encounter. The Mooloos enter the game on a record-equalling five-match losing streak, a feat they last suffered in 2005. A sixth on Sunday would be the first time since the provicial competition started in 1976. A defeat against North Harbour could also see the Waikato side drop to the second division of a national provincial competition for the first time since 1986. Plenty to play for, then, for the men from the Waikato.

Waikato: 1.Ayden Johnstone, 2.Samisoni Taukei'aho, 3.Atu Moli, 4.Leva Fifita, 5.James Tucker (captain), 6.Luke Jacobson, 7.Mitch Jacobson, 8.Jordan Manihera, 9.Harrison Levien, 10.Matty Lansdown, 11.Sevu Reece, 12.Tevita Taufui, 13.Pita Ahki, 14.Bailyn Sullivan, 15.Tyler Campbell.

Reserves: 16.Sekope Lopeti, 17.Loni Uhila, 18.Sefo Kautai, 19.Sam Caird, 20.Adam Burn, 21.Pele Cowley, 22.Sam Christie, 23.Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara.

North Harbour: 1.Chris Eves, 2.James Parsons (co-captain), 3.Mike Tamoaieta, 4.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5.Jarrad Hoeata, 6.Glenn Preston, 7.Murphy Taramai, 8.Kuki Moala-Liava'a, 9. Bryn Hall, 10.Bryn Gatland, 11.Tevita Li, 12.Shaun Treeby, 13.Matt Vaega, 14.Shaun Stevenson, 15.Matt Duffie (co-captain).

Reserves: 16.Steven Misa, 17.Adrian Smith, 18.Karl Tu'inukuafe, 19.Brandon Nansen, 20.Connor Collett, 21.Chris Smylie, 22.Dan Hilton-Jones, 23.Ben Volavola.