Bolstered Clifton sure they won't get flattened
Veteran Clifton coach Ian Snook believes his side will be a very different proposition to the one Southern ran over in week one of the senior A competition when they meet again this afternoon.
Since that 33-19 loss, Clifton have gone on to beat all but competition leaders Tukapa as Snook and assistant coach Paul Martin have the side nearing its potential.
"When we played the first game we'd had only one pre-season game and we had six people out with injury," Snook said.
"I think they are now where we'd like them to be at this point and we are looking for a level of consistency."
Among the players missing when the sides previously met was former New Zealand schools first five-eighth Beaudein Waaka, who has gone on to be one of the key reasons Clifton has found themselves second, alongside today's opponent.
Behind a pack that has gone forward more than it has gone back, Waaka has put his side in good attacking positions, allowing some of Clifton's potent ball runners to put opposition defences under real pressure.
Snook believes home ground advantage will also be a big factor in the Cast Iron Services feature match.
"It's a hard place to play, Hawera, and we're a lot more organised now. No doubt Southern are as well but the boys really like playing at home and I think there is a new found confidence in the team.
"They also know that this competition is very even and they have to play well if they are going to win. They nearly found out against Stratford last week what happens if you get ahead and don't maintain your effort."
That 19-13 result has the potential to wake up a few of the Clifton squad and there is no doubt the front eight will hold the key for both sides.
The loss of Zane Neil to injury is a blow for Clifton's front row, an area Southern will fancy their chances with experienced props Shane Cleaver and Jason Hooper packing down.
Taking scrums away from props is a bit like taking a bone away from a dog at times and Southern's front row would have been disappointed they only got half a game packing down against Spotswood United last week.
The scrum is one battle that should have a few spectators salivating.
Southern coach Willie Rickards will not be one of them, however, with the former Taranaki rep leaving after the warm-ups to catch a flight to China where his sevens expertise will be called on.
Rickards has this week been studying Clifton's loss to Tukapa and formulated a plan to replicate the defeat.
Whether referee Cam Stone allows the scrum to be wheeled and the Southern loose forwards to have the latitude Tukapa's men had that day is questionable, but stopping Clifton No 8 Nemia Soqeta and his running mates at the advantage line will still prove a priority for the visitors.
Former Taranaki club player of the year Daniel Brooks is back on the bench after only playing five minutes against Spotswood United following his return from a shoulder injury.
That time will be cranked up on the field today and it will be interesting how his backline operates with him calling the shots.
One player who will not be moving just yet is fullback Jackson Ormond, who still looks potentially the most potent attacking weapon in the Hawera side.
Rickards has toyed with the idea of moving the Taranaki wing into the midfield but has resisted because he thinks Ormond puts opposition sides off kicking too much because of his attacking threat from the back.
Elsewhere, Tukapa will celebrate their old timer's day with a visit from defending champions Coastal, who suffered their worst defeat in 2012 when they headed to Sanders Park.
Coastal's error-ridden performance in their loss to New Plymouth Old Boys seven days ago can not be repeated if they have any realistic thoughts of victory.
Tukapa first five-eighth Jack Cameron last week became the first player to reach a century of points this season and should enjoy the freedom his forwards can provide this afternoon.
Unfortunately for Tukapa, Blade Thomson has been summoned back to Wellington and will not play, although his loss might be off-set with the return from the Crusaders of Laurence Corlett, who seemed to find a new lease of life after his phone call from Todd Blackadder.
Spotswood United's match against Inglewood shapes as an interesting one, especially given the pressure Inglewood's squad has come under from expectant club members.
Numerous theories have been thrown about as to why the side performed so poorly in the first round but the simple fact is the players did not front and the Inglewood tight five has not been competitive enough at times.
Spotswood United's run of reasonable form should mean a fiery encounter and nothing like the first round when Inglewood put 50 points on the board.
Stratford will need a change of luck and some better execution if they are to cause an upset against Old Boys, who last week avoided the ignominy of losing four in a row for the first time since 1990.
HOW THEY LINE UP
CLIFTON v SOUTHERN
2.45pm, today, Tikorangi
Referee: Cam Stone
CLIFTON: Brad Cooper, Adam Warner, Kane Sharrock, Te Waiti Mareikura, Dion Gall, Beaudein Waaka, Hamuera Baker, Nemia Soqeta, Chris Black, Lapu Sisifa, Matt White, Dane Kendall, Ryan Cocker, Abe Haira, Campbell Huffam. Reserves, Mark Shaw, Sione Lea, Karipa White, Shae Fairhurst, Bevan Quigley, Dan Dreaver, Taani Prestney.
SOUTHERN: Jackson Ormond, Sean White, Caleb Kahupukoro, Cameron Koch, Lewis Ormond, Greg Rowlands, Josh Sandford, Jason Skipper, Danny McDonald, Kieran Hussey, Jon Smyth, Daniel McKerrow, Shane Cleaver, Murray Turner, Jason Hooper. Reserves, Ryan Kuklinski, Jacob Northcott, Peter Northcott, Dylan Kerei, Alex Mumford, Daniel Brooks, Brent Landers.
Other games Tukapa v Coastal, Sanders Park NPOB v Stratford, Vogeltown Park Spotswood Utd v Inglewood, Yarrow Stadium
Taranaki Daily News