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Premiership preview: North Harbour v Counties Manukau

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Friday, October 5, 2018    Campbell Burnes    Getty Images

Match details: Saturday October 6, 5.05pm at QBE Stadium, Albany
Referee: James Munro (Canterbury)
Played: 32 (1985-2017)
Wins: North Harbour 17, Counties Manukau 13, Drawn 2
Last match: North Harbour 27 Counties Manukau 18 (September 7, 2017, Premiership)


TALE OF THE TAPE

After an uncertain 2-3 start to the season, North Harbour has racked up three straight wins to keep the pressure on Wellington for the fourth semifinal berth in the Premiership.

Operating with a largely settled line-up, Tom Coventry’s men have poured in 50 points in each of their last two outings, against Hawke’s Bay and Taranaki. A solid set-piece and Dillon Hunt’s breakdown work have ensured a steady supply of ball to the backs, who have run in the tries.

Counties Manukau has had to deal with a plethora of injuries, while their vaunted set-piece has creaked. The Steelers are two points clear of Taranaki in the relegation position, so will be desperate for a win or any points at all.

In recent times, North Harbour has had the edge, winning the last three encounters between the unions.
 
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FAST FACT (Opta)

North Harbour wing Tevita Li was the leading tryscorer, with 11, in the 2017 Mitre 10 Cup and, in 2018, he again leads with 10, helped by a quartet against Taranaki.

His halfback Bryn Hall, with eight, is leading the try assists, for the Mitre 10 Cup, and has given the last pass to Li on more than one occasion this season.


RAISING THE CURTAIN

North Harbour hosts Waikato in the early Farah Palmer Cup crossover game at QBE Stadium.

The Hibiscus are fourth in the Championship standings in this final round and are facing the second-placed Premiership team, who still have ambitions to qualify top for home advantage through the FPC playoffs.

Kickoff is at 2.35pm.
THE SCOOP

North Harbour and Counties Manukau have very similar stats in most categories, but the Steelers have been penalised considerably more in 2018, 79 as against 56 for Harbour.

What does that mean for this match? Referee James Munro will have an open mind, but the Steelers will need to be more disciplined than usual, or Bryn Gatland will punish them.

Matt Duffie’s hamstring gave out against Taranaki, but his replacement Mark Telea is even quicker. Otherwise it looks a fairly strong Harbour 23.

The Steelers have returned Latiume Fosita to the pivot position for wing Toni Pulu’s 50th match. Pulu would love to receive as much clean ball as his opposite Tevita Li has got in 2018.

Powerful ball carrier Hapakuki Moala-Liava’a will come off the bench to trouble any tired Steelers’ defence, as will halfback Lewis Gjaltema.

Watch for Steelers No 15 Etene Nanai-Seturo to show more glimpses of his class. His match-up with Shaun Stevenson is another tantalising one for the pundits.


TEAMS
North Harbour:
Shaun Stevenson, Mark Telea, Daniel Hilton-Jones, Harrison Groundwater, Tevita Li, Bryn Gatland, Bryn Hall, Murphy Taramai, Dillon Hunt, Glenn Preston, Ben Nee-Nee, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Sione Mafileo, James Parsons (c), Luatangi Li
Reserves: Luteru Tolai, Chris Eves, Tony Tuungafasi, Danny Drake, Hapakuki Moala-Liava’a, Lewis Gjaltema, Loketi Manu, Nick Smith

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