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Preview: Manawatu v North Harbour

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Sportal.co.nz     08 Sep 2013     Getty Images

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 14; Manawatu 3, North Harbour 11.

LAST TIME: September 13, 2012 (Albany) – North Harbour 20-23 Manawatu.

MISSING IN ACTION: Nick Croswell's shoulder injury has seen Callum Gibbins take over the captaincy duties. Rob Foreman returns for Manawatu while there could be an appearance from the bench for Chiefs wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma.

For North Harbour, All Black duty has seen Ben Afeaki called away from the visitors, with Ropate Rinakama replacing the Chiefs prop. Tevita Li returns to the wing after being named on the bench against Northland. Jon Elrick gets his chance to impress at first-five with Cody Rei benched.

FORM: Both sides are winless after three rounds, with Manawatu holding a solitary point from their three matches while North Harbour have four.

Manawatu have leaked 108 points in three games so far this season, with their only tight match an 18-21 defeat at the hands of Auckland. What will relieve the 2011 Championship finalists is they are just one bonus-point win away from fourth spot in the second-tier competition. Qualifying for the semi-finals must surely be their motivation.

North Harbour, meanwhile, have had a different story with the same results. While winless, the visitors have put on brave displays only to be denied in two hard-fought matches. Their 20-27 loss to Auckland was coupled with a 27-35 defeat to Wellington and a 33-33 draw with Northland.

The visitors' confident displays have been put down to some superb defensive efforts, something that could prove crucial if they are to try and overcome the hosts on Sunday.

WE THINK:
This could very well be North Harbour's best opportunity for a win in the 2013 competition, but Manawatu's desperation could prove to be the difference given their Championship aspirations.

Nic Stirzaker proved an absolute handful when Manawatu played Wellington in a losing cause, while they boast promising centre Jason Emery and Lewis Marshall at fullback.

While North Harbour may claim to have the country's newest All Black, they could also claim to hold a winless season if they aren't able to overcome the Turbos. Manawatu by 2

TEAMS:
Manawatu:
1. Chris Eves, 2. Rob Foreman, 3. Ma'afu Fia, 4. Fraser Stone, 5. Michael FitzGerald, 6. Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 7. Callum Gibbins, 8. James Oliver, 9. Nic Stirzaker, 10. Jade Te Rure, 11. Tomasi Cama, 12. Tevita Taufu'i, 13. Jason Emery, 14. Nehe Milner-Skudder, 15. Lewis Marshall.

Substitutes: 16. Nick Grogan, 17. Jared Brock, 18. Dan Squire, 19. Hamish Gosling, 20. Papa Wharewera, 21. Nate George, 22. Asaeli Tikoirotuma.

North Harbour:
1. Greg Pleasants Tate, 2. James Parsons (c), 3. Ropate Rinakama, 4. Chris Smith, 5. Irwin Finau, 6. Malakai Ravulo, 7. Scott Uren, 8. Vili Fihaki, 9.Bryn Hall, 10. Jon Elrick, 11. Tevita Li, 12. Pita Ahki, 13. Nafi Tuitavake, 14. Jona Tuitoga, 15. James Semple.

Substitutes: 16. Ray Niuia, 17. Alex Woonton, 18. Brandon Nansen, 19. Leigh Thompson, 20. Brenton Helleur, 21. Codey Rei, 22. Michael Little.