Sportal.co.nz 05.Aug.2009Getty Images
VENUE & TIME: North Harbour Stadium, Albany, Friday August 7, 19.35 NZT.
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 1 – North Harbour 1, Tasman 0.
LAST TIME: July 30, 2006 (Blenheim) – Tasman 27-33 North Harbour.
WALKING WOUNDED: North Harbour has made a couple of bench-to-team switches but the big news is the return of both Luke McAlister and Rudi Wulf to the Harbour bench. How they are used will be a focus of much attention. Tasman welcomes regular lock Alex Ainley back and Blair Cook returns to the wing, while Matty James takes over at first-five from James Marshall, but the Makos are also in pretty good shape after the Taranaki match.
FORM: North Harbour claimed the one real surprise win last week, tipping up a heavily-favoured Canterbury side. Harbour did not have to play a lot of rugby on the way to that victory – Canterbury was remarkably ordinary – but the defence was almost watertight and the few chances that did fall to Harbour were taken. Tasman hung in there against Taranaki for 40 minutes but slowly gave way in the face of escalating pressure in the second half and eventually lost 9-21.
WHO'S HOT: Michael Harris was the star turn for Harbour last week, kicking 17 points including a tricky match-winner. Every man defended accurately – something that has not always been the case for Harbour – but they did have to make a heap of tackles and would prefer to see a little more possession this week. It was a game with few real standouts but every Harbour player should have been satisfied with his day's work. Tasman was similar – solid rather than spectacular. The key change this week is at first-five, where former Manawatu player Matty James gets his first start. He's one of those guys who can do something special one minute and something daft the next, but on his day he is a danger. Blair Cook is another threat on the Tasman wing – fast and industrious – while the pack can be relied on to go for the whole 80 minutes.
WE THINK: North Harbour could turn in a solid year if the opening match is anything to go by – nothing fancy but steady supply of wins. Our pick is at they'll get another one this week; again it may be efficient rather than spectacular but still good enough for four points. Expect a margin around the 10-point mark.
North Harbour: 1 – Mike Reid, 2 – James Parsons, 3 – Ben Afeaki, 4 – James King, 5 – Filo Paulo, 6 – Chris Smith, 7 – Robbie Colhoun, 8 – Viliame Ma'afu, 9 – Chris Smylie, 10 – Mike Harris, 11 – Nafi Tuitavake, 12 – Andrew Mailei, 13 – George Pisi, 14 – Anthony Tuitavake (captain), 15 – Jack McPhee.
Reserves: 16 – Mike Mayhew, 17 – James Afoa, 18 – Richard Mayhew, 19 – Malakai Ravulo, 20 – Matt France, 21 – Luke McAlister, 22 – Rudi Wulf.
Tasman: 1 – Sakaria Taulafo, 2 – Daniel Perrin, 3 – Ben Franks, 4 – Alex Ainley, 5 – Joseph Wheeler, 6 – Daniel Crichton, 7 – Jonathan Poff, 8 – Mark Bright, 9 – Kahn Fotuali'i, 10 – Matty James, 11 – Afeleki Pelenise, 12 – Andrew Goodman (captain), 13 – Kade Poki, 14 – Blair Cook, 15 – Robbie Malneek.
Reserves: 16 – Quentin MacDonald, 17 – Tristan Moran, 18 – Daniel Hyatt, 19 – Zane Winslade, 20 – Shaun Begg, 21 – Sione Holani, 22 – James Kamana.
REFEREE: Ben Skeen