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Preview: North Harbour v Northland

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Sportal.co.nz     30 Aug 2013     Getty Images

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 34; North Harbour 22, Northland 11, drawn 1.

LAST TIME: Northland 18 def North Harbour 17, Round 5, 2013 (Whangarei).

MISSING IN ACTION: Hooker James Parsons returns to captain the side and will form a pretty powerful front row combination with props Greg Pleasants Tate and Ben Afeaki.

Northland also have a changing in the hooking role, with Ross Wright reclaiming the starting hooker's role while Jake Paringatai also starts at No.8.

FORM: For North Harbour their performances can be summarised by a simple cliché - so close, yet so far. A 20-27 defeat to big brothers Auckland was followed by a 14-44 hammering at home to Counties Manukau.

If the Harbour fans thought their resistance had folded, the team had other plans. Wellington worked hard in order to secure a 35-27 win over North Harbour, the first of two games in four days for the hosts.

Northland have made tough work of their 2013 Championship campaign to date. A 22-31 defeat in their Ranfurly Shield challenge over Waikato in the opening week of the competition. The second, a 13-9 win, came on the back of two surging attacking runs capitalised on by first five-eighths Ben Seymour.

Rupeni Caucaunibuca's reintroduction to Northland rugby for the first time in a decade has been a highlight for the Taniwha. The flying Fijian has added bulk to his frame as he looks to regain another chance at Super Rugby.

WE THINK: Both teams have the ability to excite and entertain, but North Harbour's four-day turnaround could hamper their defensive resolve. Two of the last three matches have been won by a solitary point, the other within seven points. If North Harbour maintain the defensive prowess that arguably overpowered Wellington and Auckland, they could well be in for a much-needed win - especially when Tevita Li eventually comes on.

If Northland want to win they'll need to get the ball to their excitement machines – Caucaunibuca and captain Rene Ranger - to get the much-needed points. Northland by 10.

TEAMS:
North Harbour:
1. Greg Pleasants Tate, 2. James Parsons (c), 3. Ben Afeaki, 4. Chris Smith, 5. Irwin Finau, 6. Jordan Manihera, 7. Zac Judge, 8. Vili Fihaki, 9. Bryn Hall, 10. Codey Rei, 11. David Raikuna, 12. Francis Saili, 13. Pita Ahki, 14. Nafi Tuitavake, 15. James Semple.

Substitutes: 16. Adrian Smith, 17. Alex Woonton, 18. Scott Uren, 19. Malakai Ravulo, 20. Luke Hamilton, 21. Jon Elrick, 22. Tevita Li.

Northland:
1. Bronson Murray, 2. Ross Wright, 3. Scott Vessey, 4. Tom Murday, 5. Bryce Williams, 6. Dan Pryor, 7. Jack Ram, 8. Jake Paringatai, 9. Sonatane Takulua, 10. Ben Seymour, 11. Rupeni Caucaunibuca, 12. Derek Carpenter, 13. Rene Ranger (c), 14. Jone Tori-Macilai, 15. Whiria Meltzer.

Substitutes: 16. Matthew Moulds, 17. Will-Griff John, 18. David Morgan, 19. Roy Griffin, 20. Mac Sykes, 21. Daniel Hawkins, 22. Warren Dunn.