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PREVIEW: North Harbour v Counties Manukau

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Thursday, August 18, 2016    allblacks.com    Getty Images

Match details: North Harbour v Counties Manukau, Thursday 18 August, 7.35pm, QBE Stadium, Albany

Games played: 30
Wins: Counties Manukau 13, North Harbour 15, Drawn 2
Last match: Counties Manukau 44, North Harbour 14 (2013)

QUICK TAP: NORTHLAND v MANAWATU PREVIEW

FORM
Both teams come into this contest on the back of superb preseason form. North Harbour started their preseason campaign with a 60 point romp of Northland before impressive victories over Auckland and Hawke’s Bay. The Steelers bounced back from a tight loss to Taranaki to comfortably defeat Samoa A before pushing the All Blacks hard in the ‘game of three halves’.

FRESH FACES
Every season, new stars are unearthed in our premier domestic rugby competition and there will be plenty on show tonight. Counties Manukau coach Darryl Suasua has named 11 Steelers debutants in his match day 23 while North Harbour have named 8 debutants. While some of the new players have excelled in their respective club competitions, others have made a name for themselves elsewhere. Skilful New Zealand Under 20 halfback Jonathan Taumateine will be looking to make an impact off the bench for the Steelers while former Melbourne Storm rugby league flyer Matt Duffie will be eager to impress on debut for North Harbour.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
For North Harbour, hooker and skipper James Parsons will play a vital role in leading his young side against a physical Steelers pack. North Harbour will also be relying on their half back-first five-eighths combination of Bryn Hall and Matt McGahan to ignite an exciting looking backline. With an injury crisis in the Steelers front row ranks, debutant Kalolo Tuiloma has impressed during pre-season and will be watched closely tonight in the number three jersey.

QUICK TAP: MITRE 10 CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW

THE VERDICT
Cross over matches are always difficult for the Championship side but North Harbour will sense an opportunity tonight. With three front rowers out injured and 11 debutants for the Steelers, North Harbour will be looking to win the forward battle before unleashing a potent backline that includes an imposing back three of Afa Faatau, Tevita Li and Matt Duffie. Counties Manukau will rely on the experience of Super Rugby stars Jordan Taufua and Piers Francis to quell the North Harbour challenge in this crucial opening round clash.

TEAMS
North Harbour: 1: Nic Mayhew 2: James Parsons (C) 3: Sione Mafileo 4: Gerard Cowley-Tuioti 5: Brandon Nansen 6: Chris Vui 7: Kane Jacobsen 8: Murphy Taramai 9: Bryn Hall 10: Matt McGahan 11: Tevita Li 12: Michael Little 13: Matt Vaega 14: Afa Faatau 15: Matt Duffie
Reserves: Vyron Smith, Adrian Smith, Karl Tuinukuafe, Glen Preston, Dylan Lam, Chris Smylie, Bryn Gatland, Mark Telea

Counties Manukau: 1 Sean Bagshaw 2: Gafatasi Su'a 3: Kalolo Tuiloma 4: Viliame Rarasea 5: Jimmy Tupou (captain) 6: Jordan Taufua 7: Fotu Lokotui 8: Sootala Fa'aso'o 9: Richard Judd 10: Piers Francis 11: Sherwin Stowers 12: Cardiff Vaega 13: Joseph Ikenasio 14: Sam Vaka 15: Joe Reynolds Reserves: Suliasi Taufalele, Jarred Adams, Sione Faletau, Matiaha Martin, Viliami Taulani, Jonathan Taumateine, Kalione Hala, Luteru Laulala