Heem on wing for return to Makos
Bryce Heem returns from injury as the only change to the Tasman Makos starting lineup to play Northland in tomorrow's ITM Cup clash in Blenheim.
Although used at centre in his previous outings for Tasman, Heem will replace James Lowe on the left wing. Lowe is out for the next three weeks due to concussion.
Also back in the mix is fullback Tom Marshall, missing since injuring a shoulder while playing for his Nelson club team in the Bayley's Tasman Trophy final way back in June. He'll return via the bench, replacing loose forward Tevita Koloamatangi, with coaches Kieran Keane and Leon MacDonald otherwise selecting the same squad that beat Southland 13-10 on Wednesday at Lansdowne Park.
However, there's been some devastating news for Liam Squire, who will miss the rest of the season after complications with his broken ankle. The dynamic loosie had hoped to be back for the latter part of the season.
"It's a tremendous blow for him," said Keane.
"Personally I feel it is [too] because he would have complemented the team beautifully moving into the latter part of the season. Obviously, he will be absolutely distraught . . . he's been champing at the bit to get through his recovery." Northland's only previous win in six outings against Tasman was last year's opening round 19-9 success in Whangarei, against an ill-prepared and out-of-sorts Tasman side.
This year, Northland have the advantage of a full week's rest, whereas Tasman will be playing their third game in eight days. However, Keane said his players had come through a demanding week admirably, both physically and mentally.
"To be honest, we're not too bad. We've got Tom and Bryce returning and we have to be circumspect about that, and we also have Albert [Nikoro] who can cover centre and fullback.
"The importance of these next two games [including Otago next Sunday] is not lost on the players [and] that's a big focus for us. We've made some good shifts mentally and we'd really like to keep going with it if we can.
"We feel that our mental toughness is starting to flourish. It's been a bit of a work-on since last year."
In terms of motivation, there's another carrot dangling in front of the team - they've never won three consecutive games in their seven-year history, having beaten Manawatu and Southland in their last two games.
Tasman have already eclipsed last year's rather forlorn playing record when they secured only two wins and amassed just 13 championship points. Now, after just four games, they have three wins and 14 points in the bank, with fellow championship contenders Northland undoubtedly high up on Tasman's preseason hit list. But Northland are like Tasman in many respects, capable of inflicting serious damage on anybody when they are in sync. And with the constant threat of Rene Ranger lurking ominously in Northland's midfield, Tasman will require more of the defensive resilience they displayed against both Manawatu and Southland.
The biggest threat though may be dead-eye goalkicker Ash Moeke, emphasising Tasman's need to adapt quickly to referee Mike Fraser's interpretations, particularly at the breakdown.
For Northland, tighthead prop Scott Vessey is back in the starting line-up this week - one of 10 changes made to the side that took the field against Harbour.
Injuries have played their part, but coach Adriaan Ferris said he and his assistant, Derren Whitcombe, have selected the team that they think will cause Tasman the most problems in Blenheim.
"We looked at Tasman and tried to pick a team that would best take advantage of the vulnerabilities we saw in their team," Ferris said.
Kerikeri's Jack Ram gets his first start, with an injury cloud still over Dan Prior. Samisoni Fisilau returns at halfback with Rhyan Caine not 100 per cent, giving Mid Northern's Sonetane Takalua a chance off the bench.
HOW THEY LINE UP
TASMAN MAKOS: Robbie Malneek, Peter Betham, Kieron Fonotia, Andrew Goodman (captain), Bryce Heem, Hayden Cripps, Jeremy Su'a, Jordan Taufua, Shane Christie, Gary Redmond, Joe Wheeler, Filipo Levi, Campbell Johnstone, Quentin MacDonald, Tim Perry. Reserves: Francis Smith, Sam Prattley, Riki Hoeata, Vernon Fredericks, Steve Alfeld, Albert Nikoro, Tom Marshall.
NORTHLAND TANIWHA: Faatoina Autagavaia, Matt Wright, Rene Ranger, Derek Carpenter, Mateo Malupo, Ash Moeke, Samisoni Fisilau, Cam Goodhue, Jack Ram, Hale T-Pole, Bryce Williams (captain), Dan Faleafa, Scott Vessey, Ross Wright, Pene Kaufusi. Reserves: Tone Kopelani, Justin Davies, Will Whetton, Dan Pryor/Jack Whetton, Tane Takalua, Orene Ai'i, Tui Fa'asisila. Where: Lansdowne Park, Blenheim When: Tomorrow, 2.35pm Referee: Mike Fraser (Wellington) Head-to-head: Played 6, Tasman 5, Northland 1 Last time: July 16, 2011 (Whangarei) Northland 19 Tasman 9 TAB head-to-head odds: Tasman $1.30, Northland $3.30
The Nelson Mail