Tasman Makos look to bounce back as hot North Harbour side come to town
The last time North Harbour ran onto Lansdowne Park it signalled the beginning of a new chapter in New Zealand rugby.
In July 2006, the freshly-formed Tasman Rugby Union played their first national provincial championship match, narrowly losing to the northerners in front of an expectant 7000-strong crowd.
Eleven years on, the Makos host Harbour in Blenheim for the second time.
On Wednesday evening, the two premiership contenders will square off in a match that has less historic significance than its 2006 predecessor, but considerably more say in the outcome of the respective NPC seasons.
* Taranaki review
The combatants lie third and fourth on the Mitre 10 Cup premiership table, Harbour six points ahead of Tasman, with both sides having played seven games.
Win or lose on Wednesday, Harbour are well-placed to feature in the semifinals, still in contention for a potential home semifinal.
Tasman, on the other hand, are struggling. Three losses has left them clinging to the fourth play-off position, with Auckland and Counties Manukau, who they meet in their final two games, breathing down their necks.
Tasman's backs are to the wall. Coming off an untidy loss to Taranaki, marked by ill-discipline and lax defence, the Makos have had a short time frame to turn things around. Compounding their issues are the absence of several key players.
There are several enforced changes to the side involved in the previous match. Locks Alex Ainley and Quinten Strange are out of commission, the latter with what could be a long-term shoulder injury. Flanker Vernon Fredericks sustained a head knock against Taranaki and is also unavailable. In the backline, winger Viliami Lolohea, sent off against Taranaki, has been suspended for three games, while veteran Robbie Malneek is injured.
Into the front row comes youngster Tyrel Lomax, Siua Halanukonuka dropping to the bench, youngsters Shannon Frizell and Pari Pari Parkinson team up at lock, with Pete Samu replacing Fredericks in the seven shirt. Tima Faingaanuku replaces Lolohea on the right wing. Prop Isaac Salmon returns on the bench, along with young loose forward Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta who will make his debut if called upon, and Tone Ng Shiu. Tasman B utility back James Hawkey replaces Malneek among the backline reinforcements and will also debut if required.
A feature on Wednesday will be the appearance of 34-year-old hooker Ti'i Paulo, who led the Makos in their inaugural match.
Head coach Leon MacDonald was undaunted by the injury toll. "It is what it is," he said. "You can't dwell on it, luckily we have some good depth in our province at the moment ... it's a good enough team, so we are confident."
He noted that discipline and defence had been areas of focus since their previous match. "It doesn't take a brain surgeon to work out that our discipline cost us and obviously leaking six tries ... as you are probably always going to do against a team like Taranaki with numbers down. But we are still doing some good things ... I thought our second half effort was gritty and showed a lot of character."
Whatever happens on Wednesday, the Makos won't have long to either celebrate or commiserate, having a date with Auckland in Nelson on Sunday.
Taking on two Auckland-based sides within five days is a big ask, but MacDonald says his side welcome the challenge. "It is a defining week for us. We had to park Taranaki pretty quickly and prepare for this game. We did that and the attitude has been great. There is an excitement in the squad and we know that when we get it right we are a dangerous team."
At a glance
Wednesday, October 4
Tasman Makos v North Harbour at Lansdowne Park, Blenheim, kick off 7.35pm.
Tasman Makos: Will Jordan, Tima Faingaanuku, Trael Joass, Alex Nankivell, James Lowe, Mitch Hunt, Billy Guyton; Jordan Taufua, Pete Samu, Ethan Blackadder, Pari Pari Parkinson, Shannon Frizell, Tyrel Lomax, Andrew Makalio, Tim Perry. Reserves: Ti'i Paulo, Siua Halanukonuka, Isaac Salmon, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Tone Ng Shiu, Finlay Christie, Tim O'Malley, James Hawkey.
North Harbour: Matt Duffie, Shaun Stevenson, Matt Vaega, Shaun Treeby, Tevita Li, Ben Volavola, Chris Smylie; Josh Tyrell, Taramai Murphy, Brandon Nansen, Jarrad Hoeata, Shane Neville, Michael Tamoaieta, Steven Misa, Chris Eves. Bench: James Parsons, Karl Tuinukuafe, Sione Mafileo, Glenn Preston, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Lewis Gjaltema, Dan Hilton-Jones, Bryn Gatland.
2016 Tasman 27 North Harbour 27 (Albany); 2015 Tasman 39 North Harbour 20 (Nelson); 2014 no game; 2013 North Harbour 23 Tasman 12 (Albany); 2012 North Harbour 42 Tasman 10 (Nelson); 2011 North Harbour 39 Tasman 15 (Albany); 2010 North Harbour 28 Tasman 21 (Nelson); 2009 Tasman 19 North Harbour 15 (Albany)
Tasman: lost to Canterbury 39-0; lost to Manawatu 35-20; beat Waikato 31-29; beat Wellington 37-35; beat Otago 29-27; beat Southland 50-17; lost to Taranaki 40-26
North Harbour: beat Otago 19-17; beat Southland 45-20; beat Auckland 57-10; beat Counties Manukau 27-18; beat Northland 31-22; lost to Canterbury 41-28; beat Hawkes Bay 33-30
Current premiership standings (as at October 2): Canterbury 35 (played eight), Taranaki 31 (7), North Harbour 27 (7), Tasman 21 (7), Auckland 17 (8), Counties Manukau 17 (8), Waikato 14 (8)
Weather forecast: A fine day, northwesterlies strong for a time. 21 degrees.