Preview: North Harbour v Hawke's Bay

Getty Images     28 Jul 2011     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: North Harbour Stadium, Albany, Thursday July 28 @ 1935.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 11; North Harbour 7 wins, Hawke's Bay 3, drawn 1.

LAST TIME: October 17, 2010 (Napier) – Hawke's Bay 36-21 North Harbour.

WALKING WOUNDED: North Harbour has juggled a few players between the run-on XV and the bench, making four changes in the forwards and rejigging the backline. Hawke's Bay had only one injury concern before its early-week training, with Kane Thompson undergoing a scan on his shoulder after the Otago game. He was ruled out on Tuesday night. At training skipper Mike Coman suffered a minor back problem that will sideline him for this match; Hike Elliot takes over as captain.

North Harbour:
Round 1: lost to Otago 29-46 (a)
Round 2: beat Tasman 39-15 (h)
Round 3: lost to Bay of Plenty 17-38 (a)

Hawke's Bay:
Round 1: lost to Manawatu 23-32 (a)
Round 2: beat Southland 29-18 (h)
Round 3: beat Otago 27-13 (h)

North Harbour fell into its old trap on Saturday after winning midweek; a slow start led to a 3-20 deficit and Bay of Plenty only extended that lead after the interval. So far this season Harbour has scored 14 points before halftime and given up 59 – which is a damned good way to lose a lot of games. Good sides punish things like that, and Bay of Plenty made no mistake. Good sides tend to punish handling errors, too, which means Hawke's Bay really needs to cut down its fumbling. Once again the whole side shelled far too much ball on Sunday – three games into the competition Hawke's Bay has made 49 handling errors, almost half of last season's 13-week total – and those errors probably killed any chances of a bonus point. The Magpies pack worked well and controlled the game but it would be a lot easier for Peter Russell’s men if they maximised the chances they are creating.

WHO'S HOT: Not many Harbour players impressed last week as the team was always battling although the lineout was steady against good opposition; James King and Filo Paulo are both proven players at this level who can be relied upon to win their own ball and compete aggressively against whoever they're up against. Little has been seen of the outside backs in three rounds although Codey Rei, who came off the bench on Saturday, is lively whenever he gets on the field and the sort of player who needs only a modicum of space to be a threat. Hawke's Bay was well served by its experienced forwards, with Sona Taumalolo having a big game on his return from the Pacific Nations Cup. Bryn Evans, who had also missed the Southland match, was a strong force around the field and at set piece. Behind the scrum Kahn Fotuali'i, another who had been involved in the Pacific Nations Cup, was a livewire at halfback and capped his day with a well-taken try. Hawke's Bay is booked to lose several players to various World Cup squads, though, and really needs to cash in while it's at full strength.

WE THINK: Hawke's Bay should have too much in this match, both up front and in the backs, but really needs to address the sloppy handling. Most other areas of its game are working well, however, and Harbour will need to lift several notches to keep the Magpies close. The visitors will be looking at this match with five-point eyes and, barring a meltdown, will get at least four with a margin somewhere in the 10-15 point range.


North Harbour: 1. Mike Reid, 2. Mike Mayhew, 3. Ben Afeaki, 4. James King, 5. Filo Paulo, 6. Brent Wilson, 7. Sam Hayes-Stevenson, 8. Matt Luamanu, 9. Chris Smylie (capt), 10. Willie Walker, 11. David Raikuna, 12. Luke McAlister, 13. Nafi Tuitavake, 14. Ken Pisi, 15. Codey Rei.

Reserves: 16. James Parsons, 17. James Afoa, 18. Chris Smith, 19. Solomon King, 20. Brenton Helleur, 21. Ben Botica, 22. Brendon Watt, 23. Taione Vea.

Hawke's Bay: 1. Sona Taumalolo, 2. Hikawera Elliot (capt), 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Brodie Retallick, 5. Bryn Evans, 6. Trent Boswell-Wakefield, 7. Adam Bradey, 8. Karl Lowe, 9. Kahn Fotuali'i, 10. Daniel Kirkpatrick, 11. Gillies Kaka, 12. Andrew Horrell, 13. Tua Saseve, 14. Tu Umaga-Marshall, 15. Richard Buckman.

Reserves: 16. Hikairo Forbes, 17. Anthony Perenise, 18. Ashton Johnson, 19. Hugh Reed, 20. Chris Eaton, 21. Ryan McLeod, 22. Tino Nemani, 23. Logovi'i Mulipola.

REFEREE: Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri