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Air NZ Cup Preview: North Harbour v Northland

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Sportal.co.nz     20 Aug 2009     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: North Harbour Stadium, Albany, Friday August 21, 19.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 30 – North Harbour 20, Northland 9, drawn 1.

LAST TIME: September 21, 2008 (Albany) – North Harbour 24-35 Northland.

WALKING WOUNDED: Neither coach tinkered too much with his lineup, although Craig Dowd needed to replace Luke McAlister at first-five and did so with Michael Harris. He would have been pleased to get Rudi Wulf back after the winger's comeback was held up by more injury problems. Northland moved a couple of guys between the starting lineup and the bench but almost the same 22 as at Kerikeri are on duty at Albany; the only one missing is injured winger Troy Woodman.

FORM: Both sides were outplayed a week ago and each conceded a bonus point and roughly 20 to their respective conquerors. It didn't have to be that way for Harbour but some dreadful finishing made sure they went tryless for the second week running despite a massive advantage in territory and possession. Northland was never really in the hunt against Auckland although the score only blew out in the last quarter and Northland had reason to feel hard done by with some of the downfield blocking that Auckland used to open gaps in the first spell. That said, Auckland took as much as it was allowed and from that point of view deserved such a decisive victory.

WHO'S HOT: Perhaps the best thing about Harbour's season – and it's not a big field to choose from – is the form of young lock James King, who had a dominant match at Carisbrook. He is secure on his own ball and a threat to the opposition, so his development through the year will be watched with interest. Mike Harris can be expected to kick his goals but will be asked for more in general play and Anthony Tuitavake really does need to get more involved. Northland will need big Cam Jowitt to get stuck in and combat King at the lineout, which is not one of Northland's strengths. Jared Payne will probably have a few kicks to field but might get running room on some returns and Rene Ranger will also be interested if the chase line is not spot on.

WE THINK: It's very hard to get a handle on these sides as neither one has fired too many shots, so confidently picking a winner is impossible. We're going for Northland by 10, simply because they have at least threatened on occasions this year. They haven't finished many chances so far – that's Friday's problem.

TEAMS:

North Harbour: 1 – Mike Reid, 2 – Mike Mayhew, 3 – Ben Afeaki, 4 – James King, 5 – Filo Paulo, 6 – Chris Smith, 7 – Malakai Ravulo, 8 – Viliame Ma'afu, 9 – Matt France, 10 – Mike Harris, 11 – Rudi Wulf, 12 – Andrew Mailei, 13 – George Pisi, 14 – Anthony Tuitavake (captain), 15 – Jack McPhee.

Reserves: 16 – James Hanson, 17 – James Afoa, 18 – Richard Mayhew, 19 – Robbie Colhoun, 20 – Nalu Tuigamala, 21 – Ben Botica, 22 – Nafi Tuitavake.

Northland: 1 – Bronson Murray, 2 – Mikaele Tuu'u, 3 – Karl Haitana, 4 – Dan Goodwin, 5 – Cam Jowitt, 6 – Eroni Gndolo, 7 – Matt Clutterbuck, 8 – Cameron Eyre, 9 – Luke Hamilton, 10 – Lachie Munro, 11 – Rene Ranger, 12 – Derek Carpenter, 13 – Damien Fakafanua, 14 – Brook Gilmore, 15 – Jared Payne (captain).

Reserves: 16 – Tim Dow, 17 – Matt Wallis, 18 – Daniel Faleafa, 19 – Joel McKenty, 20 – Rhyan Caine, 21 – Jon Elrick, 22 – Sione Fonua.

REFEREE: Kane McBride