Southland Stags search for 80 minute showing against North Harbour at Rugby Park

Southland Stags players unite at the end of the Stags captain's run at Rugby Park on Wednesday before the game against ...
John Hawkins

Southland Stags players unite at the end of the Stags captain's run at Rugby Park on Wednesday before the game against North Harbour on Thursday night.

There's nothing quite like home.

The Southland Stags will line up in their first home game of the 2017 Mitre 10 Cup season on Thursday night when they play North Harbour in Invercargill.

The fixture comes five days after their round one 24-16 loss to Hawke's Bay in Napier in a game which they led 13-3 at halftime.

It's been a frantic week of swot for the Stags players as they look for a performance closer to 80 minutes than the 40-odd minutes of dominance they showed in Napier.

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Southland captain Brayden Mitchell felt there was a lot like from their opening game, however, the quest and the message this week is to hang tough throughout the entire game and ensure they finish their opportunities.

There is a feeling a win early in the season would do the young and enthusiastic bunch wonders, and the hope is an outing at Rugby Park will provide the tonic needed to spark what many would regard an upset victory.

"It's good to be back at home playing at Rugby Park," Mitchell said.

"Hopefully there will be a big crowd, it definitely helps when there is a good crowd, it's like having another player."

The Stags have made three changes to the team which started against Hawke's Bay last Saturday.

Traditional loose forward Bill Fukofuka has been brought off the bench to start at lock against North Harbour.

It will provide the Stags pack with another direct ball carrier and an abrasive type player in the second row.

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It means Manaaki Selby-Rickit shuffles to the bench.

After lining up for the Southland B team on Saturday loose forward Tupou Sopoaga has been included on the bench with Tepasu Thomas dropping out of the 23.

In the backline Liam Howley has recovered from an ankle injury and slots in to start at halfback with teenager Jay Renton, who impressed in his debut against Hawke's Bay, moving to the bench.

It will be Howley's first Mitre 10 Cup game since 2015 after he missed the entire 2016 season because of a knee injury.

Neria Fomai, who suffered a sickening head knock in the first five minutes against Hawke's Bay, has been replaced in the midfield by James Schrader.

Outside back Mike Molloy returns from injury but will start from the bench on Thursday night with usual midfielder Aleki Morris retaining his spot on the left wing and Greg Dyer dropping out of the 23.

Interestingly Junior Ngaluafe again can not find a spot in the Stags 23 despite starting in every game at fullback last season.

It seems Ngaluafe has fallen out of favour with the Stags selectors.

While the Stags have had a short turnaround from their last game on Saturday, North Harbour has had the full week to recover and prepare after they recorded a 19-17 win over Otago last Thursday night.

Champion Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall missed the first round win over Otago but has returned for the trip to Invercargill and will start at halfback.

North Harbour has been promoted from the Premiership division this year after winning last season's Championship division.

They have managed to bolster some positions in the off-season which included the signing of talented fullback Shaun Stevenson and former Highlanders lock Jarred Hoeata.

Thursday night's game will kick-off at 2.35pm.

THE TEAMS

Southland

Lewis Ormond, Ryan Tongia, Matthew Johnson, James Schrader, Aleki Morris, Scott Eade, Liam Howley, Elliot Dixon, Tim Boys, Phil Halder, Bill Fukofuka, Mike McKee, Guy Millar, Brayden Mitchell (c), Joe Walsh.

Reserves; Flynn Thomas, Shaun Stodart, Morgan Mitchell, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Tupou Sopaga, Jay Renton, Michael Molloy, William Talataina-Mu.

North Harbour

Shaun Stevenson, Matt Duffie, Matt Vaega, Harrison Grounmdwater, Tevita Li, Bryn Gatland, Bryn Hall, Murphy Taramai, Connor Collett, Glenn Preston, Jarred Hoeata, Brendon  Nansen, Michael Tamoaieta, James Parson, Nic Mayhew.

Reserves; Adrian Smith, Chris Eves, Sione Mafileo, Shane Neville, Josh Tyrell, Chris Smylie, Mark Telea, Ben Volavola.

 - Stuff

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