Prop Atu Moli returns for Waikato against Manawatu after time in All Blacks camp
Waikato have welcomed back tighthead prop Atu Moli for Saturday's Mitre 10 Cup clash against Manawatu in Hamilton.
Moli has spent time with the All Blacks during the Rugby Championship but hasn't played at all since the Super Rugby season because of a foot injury.
The 22-year-old's last outing was during the Chiefs' 27-13 semi-final defeat to the Crusaders in Christchurch on July 29.
Moli is one candidate who could travel with the All Blacks as an apprentice on their end-of-year tour as Jordie Barrett did in 2016.
But he needs game time and gets some off Waikato's bench as Manawatu visit FMG Stadium Waikato.
Moli has been training with the All Blacks and Waikato but his full involvement has been limited for the last six weeks because his foot has been plastered up.
But Moli was fully engaged at Waikato training on Thursday as the Mooloos look to bounce back from their horrible 37-7 defeat in Northland.
The inclusion of Moli on Waikato's bench, with their front row unchanged, is one of eight changes the Mooloos have made after more Taniwha torment in Whangarei last Saturday.
Tevita Taufui is back from a rib injury and starts at second five-eighth against his former province, who he last represented in 2013.
Adam Burn replaces Jordan Manihera at No 8 and captains the side as lock Jacob Skeen drops out of the 23.
Manihera had started every match and was leading the competition's try-scoring charts with six until Canterbury winger Braydon Ennor moved to seven after scoring during their 11-try rout of Counties Manukau to defend the Ranfurly Shield on Wednesday.
Leva Fifita starts in Skeen's place and Sam Caird is promoted to the bench for a potential Mitre 10 Cup debut.
Harrison Levien replaces Pele Cowley as starting halfback and Sevu Reece shifts back to the left wing after starting the last two matches - against Northland and Tasman - at centre.
Pita Ahki made his Waikato debut in Northland and moves to centre with Taufui at 12 as talented teen Bailyn Sullivan starts on the right wing after wearing 13 in the opening three matches.
Winger Tyler Campbell drops to the bench after starting four of Waikato's five matches as Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara (top Mooloos try scorer in 2016 with seven) misses out.
Loosehead prop Latu Talakai comes on to bench with Moli as Ayden Johnstone and Duke Nginingini drop out.
Waikato didn't start badly start against four premiership provinces but losing heavily to the ever-improving Northland was a rude awakening.
They lost to Taranaki (29-34) and Tasman (29-31) either side of good wins over Counties Manukau (33-21) and Auckland (35-27).
But the Northland defeat means the Mooloos, who are still fourth, must respond against Manawatu if they want to remain in control of making the semi-finals after five years without finals footy.
Manawatu, who sit fifth in the championship, are equally desperate having notched just one win from four, but that was against Tasman who beat Waikato.
The Turbos, pushing for tries, turned down shots at goal that ultimately proved costly in their 20-17 home defeat to Bay of Plenty last week.
Waikato beat Manawatu 19-10 to retain the Ranfurly Shield last year and can win the Log O' Wood back when they travel to Canterbury on September 30.
AT A GLANCE
What: Waikato v Manawatu
Where, when: FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton on Saturday at 2:35pm
Waikato: Zac Guildford, Bailyn Sullivan, Pita Ahki, Tevita Taufui, Sevu Reece, Sam Christie, Harrison Levien; Adam Burn (c), Mitch Jacobson, Luke Jacobson, James Tucker, Leva Fifita, Sefo Kautai, Hame Faiva, Loni Uhila. Reserves: Samisoni Taukei'aho, Latu Talakai, Atu Moli, Sam Caird, Jordan Manihera, Pele Cowley, Matty Lansdown, Tyler Campbell.
Manawatu: Kurt Baker, Newton Tudreu, Lewis Marshall, Jason Emery, Willy Ambaka, Otere Black, Kayne Hammington; Brice Henderson, Antonio Kiri Kiri, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Jackson Hemopo, Tom Parsons, Michael Alaalatoa, Tim Cadwallader, Fraser Armstrong. Reserves: Tom Crozier, Tuki Raimona, Sean Paranihi, Liam Mitchell, Harrison Brewer, Jamie Booth, Jade Te Rure, Jason Emery.