Semifinal Preview: Taranaki v Tasman

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Thursday, October 19, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Taranaki v Tasman, Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth, 7.35pm Saturday (Premiership semifinal)

Played: 15
Wins: Taranaki 10, Tasman 5
Last Time: Taranaki 40 Tasman 26, New Plymouth, 2017
Freshened by leaving so many of their most experienced players out of their North Harbour commitment at the weekend, Taranaki have plenty of hope heading into their semifinal. From the side which defended the Ranfurly Shield against Manawatu they will be without wing Waisake Naholo while Manasa Mataele is still not over a bruised shoulder. However, their stocks are such they have Seta Tamanivalu and Declan O'Donnell to call on. That also allows Charlie Ngatai and Sean Wainui to resume their midfield liaison. A boost has also been received with the under-rated Stephen Perofeta recovered from a high ankle sprain and able to resume the command he has provided from first five-eighths for the side. The Taranaki pack have plenty to their credit this season, especially their demolition job to prise the Ranfurly Shield from Canterbury's hands. No.8 Toa Halafihi has been a key contributor and will be bolstered by his choice as Taranaki's player of the year earlier in the week, an award complemented by his selection as the players' player of the year. His sidekick in the loose Pita Sowakula won the award for most promising player. Hooker Ricky Riccitelli demonstrated how much he has grown this season with the award for best forward of the year while Perofeta claimed the best back. That represents a formidable combination for Tasman to counter.

If there is one team that won't be concerned about going to New Plymouth to play such a crucial game it is Tasman. After all, they did it under the same circumstances last year and won. Their personnel is different, only four of the starting line-up remain, but they have managed the transition so well that they are deserving of their semifinal berth. Tasman will be bolstered by the return of key players who were rested for the Counties Manukau game: first five-eighths Mitchell Hunt, No.8 Jordan Taufua, prop Tim Perry, wing James Lowe and fullback Will Jordan. However, halfback Billy Guyton won't be involved as concussion has ruled him out. Lowe is one player capable of sparking his side and when mixed with the obvious attacking potential of a player like Jordan, it will ensure Taranaki's defences get a work out. But as always with Tasman it is the quality of their loose forwards who give their side a competitive bend. No.8 Jordan Taufua has had an outstanding 2017 both for the Crusaders and Tasman while Ethan Blackadder has been an emerging blindside flanker of consequence for the side and there can be no doubting the contribution Vernon Fredericks has made on the open side of the scrum. Locks Alex Ainley and Shannon Frizzel will be competitive while up front prop Tyrel Lomax has made his mark.

Tasman have done well to undergo so much change and yet still find themselves in final contention. However, the advance Taranaki have made, as demonstrated by their success in winning the Ranfurly Shield, has been even more impressive and that impetus should be enough to see them qualify to stage next week's final at home.


Taranaki: 1.Mitchell Graham, 2.Ricky Riccitelli, 3.Angus Ta'avao, 4.Kane Thompson, 5.Leon Power, 6.Pita Sowakula, 7.Lachlan Boshier, 8.Toa Halafihi, 9.Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 10.Stephen Perofeta, 11.Seta Tamanivalu, 12.Charlie Ngatai, 13.Sean Wainui, 14.Declan O'Donnell, 15.Marty McKenzie.

Substitutes: 16.Donald Maka, 17.Jared Proffit, 18.Reuben O'Neill, 19.Fin Hoeata, 20.Adrian Wyrill, 21.Kylem O'Donnell, 22.Johnny Fa'auli, 23.Jackson Ormond.

Tasman: 1.Tim Perry, 2.Andrew Makalio, 3.Tyrel Lomax, 4.Alex Ainley, 5.Shannon Frizell, 6.Ethan Blackadder, 7.Pete Samu, 8.Jordan Taufua, 9.Finlay Christie, 10.Mitchell Hunt, 11.James Lowe, 12.Alex Nankiville, 13.Levi Aumua, 14.Tima Faingaanuku, 15.Will Jordan.

Substitutes: 16.Ti'i Paulo, 17.Tom Hill, 18.Siosiua Halanukonuka, 19.Vernon Fredericks, 20.Braden Stewart, 21.Benjamin Finau, 22.Timothy O'Malley, 23.Trael Joass.