Air NZ Cup Preview: Waikato v North Harbour     01 Oct 2009

Waikato has dragged itself to the fringes of the top half but a loss here would undo all the good work of recent weeks.

VENUE & TIME: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, Thursday October 1, 19.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 30 – Waikato 18, North Harbour 10, drawn 2.

LAST TIME: August 25, 2008 (Albany) – North Harbour 15-10 Waikato.

WALKING WOUNDED: Waikato makes several gains this week, getting Aled de Malmanche, Brendon Leonard and Stephen Donald back from the All Blacks and Nathan White makes another comeback from persistent back problems. Add Toby Lynn to the mix – he's also been out recently – and Chris Gibbes has reason to think this week has gone well. Craig Dowd does not have the same luxury; he lost midfielder Andrew Mailei to a two-week suspension after he was sent off last week and Anthony Tuitavake is sidelined indefinitely with a groin strain. Getting James King back at lock is small consolation for a team under the bat.

FORM: Although both sides have won their last two matches – Waikato has actually won four of its last five – neither impresses as playoff material although Waikato actually has a pretty cushy run-in and may yet be around when the four is decided. Waikato ground out a win over Taranaki last week helped by its own refusal to knuckle under and several critical Taranaki errors in the last couple of minutes, but deserved the points it collected. Harbour had to battle for an hour with 14 men after Mailei was ordered off for a dangerous tackle, yet the reorganised backline actually played some of its best rugby of the year and Harbour deserved the win.

WHO'S HOT: Callum Bruce is a key man for Waikato, as he controls play well and has kicked more than 100 points this year. Kevin O'Neill is getting through his usual stack of work on a weekly basis and another unsung forward, Hikairo Forbes, seldom misses a beat in the front row. Tom Chamberlain was outstanding last week and his work kept Harbour out of a fair bit of bother. Anthony Boric is getting back into his work after that long lay-off and another who has not played much recently, Hayden Abercrombie, faces a big task in keeping the Harbour midfield organised on both sides of the ball.

WE THINK: We believe Waikato, even without the reinforcements from All Black land, would have been too strong in this one and our tip is the Mooloos by 10 points or so; if it's raining Harbour will come more into the mix but we still can't see the Bridge Boys getting it done.


Waikato: 1 – Hikairo Forbes, 2 – Aled de Malmanche, 3 – Nathan White, 4 – Toby Lynn, 5 – Kevin O'Neill, 6 – Liam Messam (captain), 7 – Jack Lam, 8 – Alex Bradley, 9 – Brendon Leonard, 10 – Stephen Donald, 11 – Dwayne Sweeney, 12 – Callum Bruce, 13 – Jackson Willison, 14 – Tim Mikkelson, 15 – Sosene Anesi.

Reserves: 16 – Ole Avei, 17 – Latu Talakai, 18 – Kent Fife or Romana Graham, 19 – Jordan Smiler, 20 – David Bason, 21 – Roimata Hansell-Pune, 22 – Henry Speight.

North Harbour: 1 – Mike Reid, 2 – Mike Mayhew, 3 – Ben Afeaki, 4 – James King, 5 – Filo Paulo, 6 – Anthony Boric (captain), 7 – Tom Chamberlain, 8 – Viliame Ma'afu, 9 – Matt France, 10 – Mike Harris, 11 – Rudi Wulf, 12 – Hayden Abercrombie, 13 – George Pisi, 14 – Ken Pisi, 15 – Jack McPhee.

Reserves: 16 – James Hanson, 17 – James Afoa, 18 – Chris Smith, 19 – Scott Uren, 20 – Nalu Tuigamala, 21 – Ben Botica, 22 – Nafi Tuitavake.

REFEREE: Vinny Munro