Preview: Manawatu v Taranaki

Getty Images     02 Oct 2015     Getty Images

A Manawatu win would keep the pressure on Waikato and Counties Manukau above them on the ladder. A loss, however, will see them relying on other results in order to avoid Championship rugby in 2016. Meanwhile, the defying champion Taranaki side need just a point to deny Counties Manukau any hope of qualifying for the playoffs.

Form: Manawatu bounced back from consecutive losses to defeat North Harbour 31-17 last week. It was welcome relief for Jason O'Halloran's side who prop up the bottom of the Premiership table with 14 points. Taranaki, by contrast, are sitting pretty in fourth spot in the premier division and are still within reach of a home semifinal following their first win over Canterbury in Christchurch since 1962 last week.

Played: 86
Wins: Manawatu 56, Taranaki 23, Draws: 7
Last Time: Manawatu 12 Taranaki 6, Palmerston North 2013

MANAWATU: 1.Fraser Armstrong, 2. Rob Foreman, 3.Michael Alaalatoa, 4. Tom Parsons, 5.Fraser Stone, 6.Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 7.Callum Gibbins (captain), 8.Antonio Kiri Kiri, 9.Toby Morland, 10.Otere Black, 11.Nathan Tudreu, 12.Hamish Northcott, 13.Jason Emery, 14.Newton Tudreu, 15.Ambrose Curtis.

Reserves: 16.Nick Grogan, 17.Adrian Barone, 18.Tim Cadwallader, 19.Valentino Mapapalangi, 20.James Oliver, 21.Kayne Hammington, 22.Sam Malcolm, 23.Jaxon Tagavaitau.

TARANAKI: 1.Mitchell Graham, 2.Hika Elliot, 3.Angus Taavao, 4.Mitchell Brown, 5.Blade Thomson, 6.Mitchell Crosswell, 7.Berny Hall, 8.Toa Halafihi, 9.Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 10.Codey Rei, 11.Latu Vaeno, 12.Charlie Ngatai (captain), 13.Seta Tamanivalu, 14.Sean Wainui, 15.Kurt Baker.

Reserves: 16.Rhys Marshall, 17.Sione Lea, 18.Ryan Cocker, 19.Iopu Iopu-Aso, 20.Lachlan Boshier, 21.David Ormrod, 22.Liam McBride, 23.Jackson Ormond.

Squad Update: The Turbos have lost loose forward Brice Henderson to a broken wrist, resulting in Antonio Kiri Kiri's elevation to No.8. The visitors have captain Charlie Ngatai returning from concussion to start at second five-eighths.

Key Players: There's a tasty head to head encounter between fullbacks Ambrose Curtis and Kurt Baker. Curtis has had limited opportunities to display his complete skill sets. Both will be desperate to prove they deserve to start at 15.

Meanwhile, the eyes of Taranaki fans will be on their midfield pairing. Ngatai and Seta Tamanivalu provide a perfect combination of silkiness and brutality in the Bulls' backline. How they penetrate a defensive line featuring Heiden Bedwell-Curtis and Manawatu captain Callum Gibbins.