Familiar names get set for repeat result
While Manawatu enter a new era, the team to confront Wellington tomorrow is only three men shy of the regulars who fronted most of last season's campaign.
The newcomers are United States Eagles prop Eric Fry and the two in for the All Blacks, halfback Karl Bryson and first five-eighth Nathan George.
On that basis, the Turbos should have a fair shot at again upending the team for whom Turbos coach Jason O'Halloran played 95 times, and his predecessor Dave Rennie 59.
"It's not about me, it's about the players," O'Halloran said.
All the pressure for him is in the week leading up to the game.
"On the game day, you can't do any more."
While O'Halloran would love to start with a win over big brother, there's always more pressure on a Wellington coach against an upstart like Manawatu coached by a former Wellingtonian. Andre Bell was shunted last year, and now Chris Boyd is in charge, a coach who has worked with O'Halloran with the New Zealand under-20s and at the International Rugby Academy.
Man for man, the Turbos match up, even if they have only four Super players in their starting XV against Wellington's 12. Manawatu's are prop Ma'afu Fia, lock Michael FitzGerald, flanker Nick Crosswell and centre Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
So what's new? The Turbos are always dwarfed when it comes to playing Premiership sides.
While Manawatu's pre-season hit-outs against Wellington and Hawke's Bay were flimsy, there was urgency in training on the soft footing and long grass at Massey University yesterday.
"There was a bit of tension, which is a good thing," O'Halloran said. "We need to bring intensity on Friday night. If we don't, we will come second."
Prop Grant Polson is back running but as his knee mends, he is being earmarked more for the Auckland match on September 2. Strong efforts at training this week saw Fry edge past Jared Brock as the favoured loosehead.
The Manawatu scrum needed repairs after being so unstable at Napier, as did the defensive line.
Loose forward James Oliver is over his groin strain and will come off the bench, a luxury the Turbos had last year with Oliver and Hamish Gosling (53 games).
With a first-five on debut, O'Halloran has plumped for the experienced Frankie Bryant outside George. Bryant, playing his 79th game, is a man who always finds his feet for Manawatu since debuting a decade ago in 2002.
The Turbos' reserve backs were to be named today, depending on the fitness of Papa Wharewera and Lewis Marshall.
Meanwhile, seven Wellington players will make their debuts, including four in the starting XV. Out injured are Lima Sopoaga, T J Perenara and Brad Shields, but in come the NZ Sevens player out of Rongotai College last year, Ardie Savea, at No 8, and newly created first-five Tim Bateman.
Boyd, coach of next year's NZ under-20s, knows neither team will resemble those he saw in the warm-up games.
"In this first game, all of the sides will be concentrating on what they can deliver, getting their games sorted. No-one in Wellington liked losing twice to Manawatu; we're not happy losing to anybody.
"It's a difficult time to get organised, so we have to get straight into it. We have three games in nine days."
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