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Preview: Bay of Plenty v North Harbour

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Friday, August 14, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: The Steamers completed their warmup for the regular season with an impressive 18-0 win over Manawatu, a sound result after being defeated by Auckland in their very first match of the 2015 campaign.

It was a hard season for the Bay of Plenty outfit in 2014, winning just two matches, but if there is any consolation to be gained from those results, it is the fact that the Steamers defeated their incoming opponents last year.

In fact, Harbour haven’t been able to defeat Bay of Plenty since 2009, something not lost on both sides coming into this vital game – the Championship division is unforgiving and a slow start could destroy a season before it even begins.

The tourists meanwhile have plenty of work to do, their 17-48 loss to Auckland last week was a harsh examination, the blue and whites had a field day picking apart Harbours wide defensive systems.

The knowledge that they are in their seventh year and counting without beating Bay of Plenty will be a stat the men from Harbour will be keen to amend, along with their slow start to ITM Cup seasons.

Over the last two years it has taken until at least round five for the side to record their first win, so securing a priceless away victory to start 2015 will be a major priority for head coach Steve Jackson.



Friday 14 August, 8.05pm at ASB Baypark Stadium, Tauranga
Played: 27, 1985-2014
Bay of Plenty wins: 13 | North Harbour wins: 14

Last match: Bay of Plenty 21 North Harbour 14, 07.09.14 in Rotorua (ITMC)
Last North Harbour win: North Harbour 28 Bay of Plenty 7, 10.10.09 in North Shore City (ANZC)
Biggest Bay of Plenty score: 39 (39-29), 29.08.10 in Rotorua (ITMC)
Biggest North Harbour score: 41 (41-8), 16.09.05 in Rotorua (NPC)
Biggest differential: North Harbour by 33 (41-8), 16.09.05 in Rotorua (NPC)



Squad update: It is a new look Bay of Plenty team, with head coach Clayton McMillan selected nine new faces, with co-captains Culum Retallick and Carl Axtens both starting to ensure there is some experience in the side.

Among the new boys are two players who have been furthering their development in Europe, Terrence Hepetema and Lalakai Foketi have the potential to form a crucial midfield axis for the Steamers.

Despite finishing last in the Championship in 2014, the team still crossed for 26 tries, just one less than eventual winners Manawatu, so expect their open style of play to continue this year.

Harbour will be without the services of Rene Ranger, who continues to recover from a neck injury, but otherwise it is a potent group of strike players out wide.

Matt McGahan will play at 10 and has numerous weapons at his dispoal, Pita Ahki, Nafi Tuitavake and Junior Tofa Va’a are eager ball carriers and will look to start the 2015 season with some fireworks.



Steamers:

1. Solomona Sakalia
2. Nathan Harris
3. Pingi Tala’apitaga
4. Keepa Mewett
5. Culum Retallick (c)
6. Shahn Eru
7. Johan Bardoul
8. Carl Axtens (c)
9. Papa Wharewera
10. Nick Evemy
11. Chase Tiatia
12. Terrence Hepetema
13. Lalakai Foketi
14. Tino Nemani
15. Te Rangi Fraser

Reserves:

16. Joseph Royal
17. Siegfried Fisi’ihoi
18. Jeff Thwaites
19. Troy Callander
20. Zak Hohneck
21. Te Aihe Toma
22. Caleb Hall
23. Craig Clare

North Harbour:

1. Nic Mayhew
2. James Parsons
3. Sione Mafielo
4. Gerard Tuioti-Mariner
5. Hayden Triggs
6. Chris Vui
7. Josh Blucher
8. Jordan Manihera
9. Bryn Hall
10. Matt McGahan
11. Tevita Li
12. Pita Ahki
13. Michael Little
14. Nafi Tuitavake
15. Junior Tofa Va’a
16. Kalem Chan Boon
17. Adrian Smith
18. Alex Woonton
19. Brandon Nansen
20. Hapakuki Moala Liava’a
21. David Bason
22. Daniel Halangahu
23. Matt Vaega



Key players: With so many new faces this Steamers team will be difficult to analyse, many of the Bay of Plenty debutants are from the back division so don’t be surprised to see some new plays from the home outfit during this game.

Up front Nathan Harris, Solomona Sakalia and Pingi Tala’apitaga form a no-nonsense front row that should provide a solid platform, especially with Joe Royal coming off the bench, while Keepa Mewett partners skipper Retallick at lock.

Shahn Eru completes the back row alongside the other captain Axtens and the omni-present Johan Bardoul, while Under 20’s forward Troy Callander lurks on the bench.

There is plenty of familiarity around Harbour’s squad, James Parsons takes his place at hooker while Hayden Triggs and Jordan Manihera add clout and experience to the pack.

With so much attacking menace out wide, the men up front will want to make sure they fight fire with fire when coming up against the enthusiastic home team’s pack.

Jordan Manihera and Bryn Hall’s combination at eight and nine will be critical, with so much on the line the teams will be measured tactically but both of these sides could resort to type and move the ball around with reckless abandon.