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Premiership preview: Tasman v Counties Manukau

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Saturday, September 22, 2018    Campbell Burnes    Getty Images

Match details: Sunday September 23, 2.05pm at Trafalgar Park, Nelson
Referee: Tim Griffiths (Manawatu)
Played: 9 (2009-17)
Wins: Counties Manukau 5, Tasman 4
Last match: Counties Manukau 52 Tasman 30 (October 14, 2017, Premiership)

TALE OF THE TAPE

Depending on what happens in the Saturday evening games, a Tasman Mako win could elevate them to the top of the Premiership.

But it doesn’t really matter either way. Other than a blip against Auckland a fortnight ago, Tasman has shown strong form this season, starting with last month’s decisive defeat of the defending champion Canterbury.

Counties Manukau has yet to impose itself fully at set-piece time and its attack has been uneven. The Steelers would love nothing more than to cut loose as they did last season in putting 50 on the Mako. Nigel Ah Wong did some of the damage then with a brace, and he lines up at centre.

The Steelers have, however, beaten the Mako thrice of the last four encounters, but not without some lineout hiccups. The Mako, conversely, have not last a lineout in the last three meetings.

Steelers hooker Joe Royal knows his way to the line, having scored twice in the last three games.

Mitch Hunt is goalkicking at 81 percent, substantially better than Latiume Fosita with 65 percent.

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BENCH IMPACT

Both sides have several players who can offer maximum impact off the pine.

The Steelers can call on experienced front-rowers Gafatasi Sua and Jarrod Firth, while Sikeli Nabou will run on for his 50th match to offer his lineout-winning ability and athleticism. The backs replacements all offer spark, and multi-skilled options in Liam Daniela, Lu Laulala and All Blacks Sevens rep Sione Molia.

Tasman can call on, among others, bullocking hooker Andrew Makalio, and Auckland loaners, lock John Akau’ola-Laula and loose forward Sione Havili.

FULLBACK MATCH-UP

Will Jordan versus Etene Nanai-Seturo is a helluva fullback match-up, two young guns on the up.

Jordan has been in sparkling form for the Mako in 2018. Only one player in the Mitre 10 Cup has scored more than his five tries. Nanai-Seturo makes his first start of 2018 for the Steelers, having shaken off a hamstring issue. The All Blacks Sevens rep has thus far been used at centre, but fullback is where he played much of his First XV rugby, most effectively, for St Kentigern College.
 
THE SCOOP

The visitors will be rank underdogs, especially after dipping out on the Jonah Lomu Memorial Trophy in disappointing fashion in their last outing, but they still have enough talent to hurt you.

Give Toni Pulu and Etene Nanai-Seturo any space, and they are gone. But it is, as ever, in the forward exchanges, where the game will be won or lost. Royal is an accurate thrower into lineouts, and will need to be again, as Paripari Parkinson can win his ball and pull down his opponents’ possession.

Halfback Te Aihe Toma will have his work cut out against Wednesday’s player of the day Finlay Christie. Jamie Spowart, who will need to watch Pulu like a hawk, is no slug and scored a superb solo try against Manawatu.

In the Farah Palmer Cup curtainraiser, the Tasman Mako women will host the Wellington Pride in the Championship section. Kickoff is at 11.35am.


TEAMS
Tasman:
Will Jordan, Tima Faingaanuku, Levi Aumua, David Havili (c), Jamie Spowart, Mitch Hunt, Finlay Christie, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Jed Brown, Ethan Blackadder, Paripari Parkinson, Quinten Strange, Tyrel Lomax, Ray Niuia, Wyatt Crockett
Reserves: Andrew Makalio, Ryan Coxon, Isaac Salmon, John Akau’ola-Laula, Sione Havili, Jack Grooby, Alex Nankivell, William Havili

Counties Manukau: Etene Nanai-Seturo, Toni Pulu, Nigel Ah Wong, Orbyn Leger, Tevita Nabura, Latiume Fosita, Te Aihe Toma, Dan Hyatt, Fotu Lokotui, Matt Vaai, Matiaha Martin (c), Viliame Rarasea, Coree Te Whata-Colley, Joe Royal, Howard Sililoto
Reserves: Gafatasi Su’a, Sean Bagshaw, Jarrod Firth, Daymon Leasuasu, Sikeli Nabou, Liam Daniela, Luteru Laulala, Sione Molia