Malneek ton is Makos' motivation
The Tasman Makos get the opportunity to celebrate another personal milestone in Pukekohe tomorrow.
And as with captain Andrew Goodman's fitting 50th match hijinks in last Thursday's national rugby championship win over Bay of Plenty, the Tasman team will be looking for a similar response against Counties Manukau to make wing Robbie Malneek's 100th outing for the region a memorable one. Malneek has been around a while now and after 28 games for Nelson Bays and now 71 for Tasman, the 29-year-old utility will achieve his ton against the championship pace-setters on their home turf.
Malneek has been one of Tasman's form players this season, lethal on attack and a key figure in the 17-3 win over Bay of Plenty as part of a potent back three. But the ante will be lifted significantly tomorrow against a side many are predicting will complete the transition from championship to premiership at the end of the season.
Tasman are one team set on denying them that honour, but despite Saturday's narrow loss to Waikato and their brutal three-day turnaround, Counties Manukau remain the team to beat in this year's supposed second-tier competition. Tasman's coaches Kieran Keane and Leon MacDonald again have the luxury of fielding a virtually unchanged lineup. Lock Joe Wheeler's return from tonsillitis in place of Riki Hoeata is the only alteration to the starting lineup. Wing James Lowe is also bracketed on the bench with Sione Holani.
"The boys got up for their captain, so it'd be nice to get up for the longest serving member, so clearly that's a motivation," Keane said.
"So is a home semifinal. That's what we're looking for and if we can pull this off, it'll go a long way to fulfilling that aspiration."
Keane said Counties' loss to Waikato would mean a lot more resolve from the Steelers tomorrow night. "It'll be interesting to see how they cope with that short turnaround.
"I think it's more about who can handle the pressure the most and who's capable of adapting. Both teams like to attack, both have strike power, and I think the other subtleties in the game are going to be more important really."
Keane acknowledged the threat posed by Counties' exciting playmakers such as midfielder Bundee Aki and fullback Tim Nanai-Williams, with first five-eighth Baden Kerr also developing into an astute operator. So Tasman's defence, said Keane, would need to be at its best.
"We have to keep moving forward with the defence and that's been pleasing from a coaching point of view, so to take a step back would be a bit disheartening.
"I think it's more mental than anything now, the systems are all in place."
The game kicks off at ECOLight Stadium in Pukekohe at 7.35pm.
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