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Preview: North Harbour v Otago

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015    ITMCup.co.nz    Getty Images

Form: North Harbour surrendered a slender halftime lead against Manawatu en route to a 17-31 defeat to the Turbos. It had undone all of the momentum Harbour had laid in a 20-27 loss to Canterbury a week earlier. The two-game losing streak came after a gritty 28-20 win over Premiership side Counties Manukau in Pukekohe a week earlier. North Harbour sit in sixth on 10 points, and a bonus point win against Otago would go a significant way to ensuring they are a chance of playoffs rugby.

Otago, meanwhile, have hit form at the perfect time. Their record 61-7 win over Southland in the southern derby was their second successive win following a last-gasp 37-36 win over Wellington. Prior to that the Otago side were very competitive in a bonus point defeat to Auckland (29-35). They lie fourth in the Championship and a win on Thursday would not only almost guarantee their spot in the playoffs, it would end North Harbour’s hopes.

Played: 34
Wins: North Harbour 11, Otago 23
Last time: Otago 28-14 North Harbour, Dunedin 2014

Teams:
NORTH HARBOUR (likely): 1.Nic Mayhew, 2.James Parsons, 3.Sione Mafileo, 4.Gerard Tuioti-Mariner, 5.Hayden Triggs, 6.James Doyle, 7.Josh Blucher, 8.Chris Vui, 9.Bryn Hall (captain), 10.Matt McGahan, 11.Tevita Li, 12.Michael Little, 13.Pita Ahki, 14.Nafi Tuitavake, 15.Josh Rowland.

Reserves: 16.Ray Niuia, 17.Alex Woonton, 18.George Tuinkuafe, 19.Brandon Nansen, 20.Jordan Manihera, 21.David Bason, 22.Matt Vaega, 23.Junior Tofa Va’a.

OTAGO: 1.Craig Millar, 2.Liam Coltman (captain), 3. Hisa Sasagi, 4.Josh Dickson, 5.Tom Franklin, 6.Jackson Hemopo, 7.James Lentjes, 8.Mika Mafi, 9.Josh Renton, 10.Peter Breen, 11.Jack Wilson, 12.Teihorangi Walden, 13.Matt Faddes, 14.Sio Tomkinson, 15.Michael Collins.

Reserves: 16.Sekonaia Pole, 17.Aki Seiuli, 18.Donald Brighthouse, 19.Charlie O’Connell, 20.Naulia Dawai, 21.Kaide Whiting, 22.Fletcher Smith, 23.Jayen Spence.

Squad Update: North Harbour’s side was unavailable at the time of publication, but there has been no fresh news surrounding injuries or disciplinary concerns. Daniel Halangahu remains out for the rest of the ITM Cup season with injury.

Otago, meanwhile, have welcomed back Josh Dickson, Jackson Hemopo and Mika Mafi to the starting XV, while Charlie O’Connell returns from injury to take his place on the bench.

Key Players: The battle of the backlines looks to be a promising one, and one that should have running rugby enthusiasts salivating. The contest between Pita Ahki and Teihurangi Walden should provide plenty of metres for stats gurus, while wing Sio Tomkinson will have a handful containing his opposite, Tevita Li.

Harbour prop Nic Mayhew has hit some sparkling form in recent weeks, and will be desperate to shut down an Otago pack featuring dynamic captain Liam Coltman. Meanwihle, Peter Breen has been in superb form for Otago and North Harbour counterpart Matt McGahan knows his spatial kicking will need to be up to standard if they are to contain a rampant Otago.