Harbour not a bridge too far
Manawatu's Turbos defied the pundits by beating Northland on one of Manawatu's killing fields, at Whangarei last week.
Now tonight, no pressure, a first away win over North Harbour is all that is required to salve the wounds from the loss to Tasman on Sunday.
In three journeys to Takapuna and three to Albany, Manawatu haven't enjoyed tripping across the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
It took until 2009 for the Turbos to topple Harbour for the first time, and that was a resounding 42-16 win at Palmerston North, followed by last year's 32-21 win at home.
Few of the Turbos were saying it, but if they can't get past the winless Harbour tonight, then they're in for a long haul. Harbour almost pipped Northland at Whangarei on Sunday before losing 18-17 and Manawatu won there by 33-20.
If the Turbos are mentally tuned up, they can do it again.
Many of the Turbos are bruised black and blue, hardly surprising when tonight's will be their fourth match in 12 days.
Three of the starters sat out the captain's run on FMG Stadium yesterday - hooker Rob Foreman (elbow), lock Michael FitzGerald (knee) and lock Fraser Stone (calf muscle). None of those will willingly pass up any game and were expected to be right by tonight.
Prop Ma'afu Fia will act as the third-string hooker with the No 3, Feilding's Richard Taylor, back home in Canterbury. Harbour have rested New Zealand under-20 captain lock Chris Smith and first-five Michael Hobbs is injured. Otherwise, the team is the same as at Whangarei.
With Manawatu so desperate for a win to keep the semifinals within sight - the top four from seven qualify so it's not insurmountable - coach Jason O'Halloran doesn't have the luxury of great depth to rest his weary troops. But leaving out halfback Karl Bryson and prop Eric Fry was partly to rest them.
Halfback Kaperiere Wharewera - nicknamed Papa after his great-grandfather who had the same name - is a little guy but has the chance to spark as he did when he came on against Tasman.
The soldier in the engineers at Linton Camp is familiar with a few of the Harbour troopers - he captained Bryn Hall (this year's NZ under-20s skipper) and Francis Saili in the 2009 NZ Schools team as well as Manawatu flanker Antonio Kiri Kiri.
Wharewera and TJ Perenara were the halfbacks in that team.
"I originally wanted to pursue rugby but stuff changes along the way," said Wharewera, who is from Whakatane but attended Rotorua Boys' High School.
He joined the army last year and for now he has both worlds.
"The army have supported me well. It's pretty rare for defence players to play for provincial teams so they embrace it.
"I knew it would come with a bit of hard work. I've been learning off the older boys like Frankie [Bryant] and Tomasi [Cama]."
Manawatu's last soldier in the team was wing Aaron James in 2009. Before him were locks Hayden Triggs and Adaam Ross.
Kiri Kiri, 20, is a good size at 1.88m and 106kg. He slots in at No 6 and Nick Crosswell at No 8, neither player totally at ease there, but forced by the injuries to James Oliver and Hamish Gosling. This is Kiri Kiri's big chance.
"It is a lot faster than club rugby and I haven't played a lot so there's not a lot of match fitness," he said.
Prop David Te Moana will get on for his 50th match, while Harbour have All Black Rudi Wulf back but may lose first-five James Semple, who was injured during the captain's run yesterday.
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