Preview: Auckland v Bay of Plenty

Getty Images     31 Aug 2013     Getty Images

It would be hard to expect Bay of Plenty to do the same for a second year running - even if Auckland are ripe for the picking.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 59; Auckland 47, Bay of Plenty 12.

LAST TIME: Bay of Plenty 37 def 16 Auckland, Round 7, 2012 (Rotorua).

MISSING IN ACTION:Saturday will mark the return, not the absence, of longtime Auckland, Blues and All Black hooker Keven Mealamu. The No.2 will start at hooker in what is his first provincial match for five years. Joe Edwards' injury sees Sean Polwart step into the No.6 jersey alongside fellow University club mate Luke Braid, who nabs the openside flanker's jersey.

The Bay of Plenty welcome back Sam Cane from All Blacks duty and will form a potent loose forward trio with Queensland Reds flanker Beau Robinson and No.8 Carl Axtens. One player who won't feature is Culum Retallick who has been suspended for two weeks for a lifting tackle.

FORM: Auckland have been patchy, that much is certain. But there's something there that has seen them grind out wins. Victories against North Harbour (27-20) and Manawatu (21-18) were harder than they should have been. Wayne PIvac knows his side has plenty of work to do but there will be optimistic about his side not peaking at the wrong end of the competition.

The Bay of Plenty's campaign has got off to a mixed start. Their come-from-behind 24-20 victory over Hawke's Bay was heightened by the tension of what is the Battle of the Bays, something that will please Herb Schuler.

The job isn't done yet, however. If they are to challenge for a top four spot they will need to put patchy teams like Auckland away. Holding the John Drake Memorial Boot will only spur the hosts on come Saturday.

They did the unthinkable when they thumped Auckland 37-16 in their 2012 match-up, and with the John Drake Memorial Boot in their trophy cabinet there is a serious motivation to get over the line.

Fans will be looking for Bay of Plenty to build with a second straight win, though the talent-filled Auckland will pose plenty of challenges.

If Auckland are to be a serious contender, then their third straight win needs to be an emphatic one. A team that boasts the likes of Mealamu, Braid, Piri Weepu, George Moala and Charles Piutau should do better on attack. A lot will ride on the form of fresh first-five Sam Hickey. If he can control his potent backline then they should win comfortably. If they continue to stumble through the competition as they have in the first two rounds then this one is almost definitely in the bag for the hosts. Auckland by 10

1. Sam Prattley, 2. Keven Mealamu, 3. Angus Ta'avao, 4. Liaki Moli, 5. Patrick Tuipulotu, 6. Sean Polwart, 7. Luke Braid, 8. Peter Saili, 9. Piri Weepu, 10. Simon Hickey, 11. Lolagi Visinia, 12. Hadleigh Parkes (c), 13. Malakai Fekitoa, 14. George Moala, 15. Charles Piutau.

Substitutes: 16. Tom McCartney, 17. Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18. Jack Whetton, 19. Sean Brookman, 20. Junioe Poluleiligaga, 21. Vince Aso, 22. Tenina Sauileoge.

Bay of Plenty:
1. Kane Hames 2. Joe Royal 3. Pingi Talaapitaga 4. Yohan Bardoul 5. Keepa Mewett 6. Sam Cane 7. Beau Robinson 8. Carl Axtens 9. Samisoni Fisilau 10. Willie Ripia 11. Kimami Sitauti 12. Sam Beard 13. Brett Mather 14. Tino Nemani 15. Dave Thomas.

Substitutes: 16. Nathan Harris 17. Albert Anae 18. Beau Williams 19. Joe Tupe 20. Josh Hall 21. Nick Evemy 22. Junior Tofa-Va'a.