Championship semifinal preview: Waikato v Northland

Getty Images

Friday, October 19, 2018    Campbell Burnes    Getty Images

Match details: Saturday October 20, 2.35pm at FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton
Referee: Paul Williams (Taranaki)
Played: 76 (1926-2018)
Wins: Waikato 48, Northland 26, Drawn 2
Last time: Waikato 71 Northland 28 (October 6, 2018)


Waikato’s surprise Ranfurly Shield loss to Otago is bad news for Northland, still searching for consistent form as the rugby hourglass runs out.

The 23-19 loss to the Razorbacks was surprising on several levels, not the least of which was the ascendancy of the Otago scrum. Waikato just could not get the flow going that has seen the Mooloos rack up a competition-high 368 points, at an average of 37 per game. This is nine points per game more than Northland has managed.

While it is tempting to draw conclusions from Waikato’s 71-28 pummelling of Northland a fortnight ago in Whangarei, that result will carry little relevance. For one, the Taniwha will be more resolute on the tackle this time.

Sevu Reece, back in the Waikato No 11 jersey after being suspended for one game, has beaten 61 defenders this season, the best in Mitre 10 Cup. Northland’s best, Rene Ranger, who has missed a few games, has 34 defenders beaten to his credit.

Northland went down 38-35 to Bay of Plenty in Tauranga, in a game notable for the fact that Scott Gregory absolutely carved up the Steamers’ midfield when he shifted into the centres late in the action. Can he again cut loose?

The big carrot for Waikato is a first final since it was runner-up in the 2011 Premiership. Northland’s big carrot is that a win would see it into a first final since the good ol’ NPC division two days in 1997.


Sam Nock is promoted to the No 9 Taniwha jersey ahead of Jono Kitto, who has been in good form.

Nock will be desperate to prove a point or two and give slick service to the big-kicking Jack Debreczeni, who can then set alight the Taniwha backline talent. Nock scored a try and kicked a conversion in Northland’s 49-21 semifinal defeat to Wellington in 2017.

Jack Stratton has proven he is worth his weight in gold for the Mooloos this season. In 2017 he was replacement for Canterbury in the playoffs on the way to yet another Premiership title. This under-rated player has struck up a good combination with Jordan Manihera at the boot of the scrum and Fletcher Smith on the outside. Chalk Stratton up as one of the Mitre 10 Cup’s more astute signings.

Northland is due for a big performance, but will Waikato allow the visitors to ratchet up the intensity?

Taniwha No 6 Tom Robinson is back in harness, meaning the lineout is strengthened, but the Mooloos have selected a bruising pack. Jono Gibbes is starting Ayden Johnstone and Adam Burn, while Tyler Campbell switches to the right wing, among several changes.

The battle between the seasoned centres Dwayne Sweeney, who debuted for Waikato as far back as 2002, and Rene Ranger, whom he will mark on any one-out defence, should be fascinating.

The O’Donnell brothers will offer punch off the Waikato bench, as will Matt Matich off the Northland pine.

Matty Lansdown, Tyler Campbell, Quinn Tupaea, Dwayne Sweeney (c), Sevu Reece, Fletcher Smith, Jack Stratton, Jordan Manihera, Mitch Jacobson, Adam Burn, James Tucker, Tim Bond, Joshua Iosefa-Scott, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Ayden Johnstone
Reserves: Sekope Lopeti-Moli, Toby Smith, Sosaia Fale, Sam Caird, Murray Iti, Kylem O’Donnell, Bailyn Sullivan, Declan O’Donnell

Northland: Matt Wright, Jordan Hyland, Rene Ranger, Tamati Tua, Scott Gregory, Jack Debreczeni, Sam Nock, Jaycob Matiu, Aorangi Stokes, Tom Robinson, Josh Goodhue, Lucas Albornoz, Ropate Rinakama, Matt Moulds (c), Ross Wright
Reserves: Jordan Olsen, Jack Straker, Isi Tuungafasi, Sam McNamara, Matt Matich, Jono Kitto, Wiseguy Faiane, Blake Hohaia