Preview: Hawke's Bay v Northland

Getty Images     15 Sep 2013     Getty Images

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 30; Hawke's Bay 11, Northland 18, drawn 1.
LAST TIME: Northland 43 def Hawke's Bay 34, August 24, 2011 (Whangarei).

MISSING IN ACTION: Ash Dixon continues to fill the ousted Hika Elliott's boots with distinction. The hooker was outstanding in Hawke's Bay's loss to Taranaki on Wednesday.

Rupeni Caucaunibuca starts at left wing for Northland while Daniel Hawkins gets a chance at first five-eighths ahead of Ben Symour. Welshman Will-Griff John also gets a chance to impress in the No.3 jersey.

FORM: Hawke's Bay started the competition with a bang, dispatching a below-par Manawatu 45-18 in the opening round. They were pipped in the 'Battle of the Bays' by Bay of Plenty 20-24 before the high point of their season, claiming the Ranfurly Shield from Otago for the first time in over 40 years.

Their reign, however, lasted less than a week before Counties Manukau claimed the Shield in a 24-27 loss. Hawke's Bay need to strike back and avoid the Shield hangovers suffered by Waikato and Otago, who both succumbed to heavy losses the week after they lost the Shield.

Northland started the campaign with a tight 22-31 loss to Waikato for the Ranfurly Shield. They secured a 13-9 victory in a gritty battle with Southland before they drew 33-33 with North Harbour.

A 10-30 defeat to Wellington has left the Taniwha second-last with seven points, one point ahead of Southland. A bonus point victory could see Northland overtake Hawke's Bay on the points table with a match in hand.

Northland will be buoyed by recent defensive efforts, but could come up against a wounded Hawke's Bay intent on reclaiming the lead in the Championship. Expect Hawke's Bay first five-eighths Ihaia West to have a big impact if they are to have any chance of victory.

Rene Ranger has also been in superb form and will need to lead his side from the front in midfield to give his side a hope. It might be a bit of a long shot, but Northland could get up here and we're picking them by under a try. Northland by 6.

Hawke's Bay: TBC

1. Bronson Murray, 2. Matt Moulds, 3. Will-Griff John, 4. Tom Murday, 5. Bryce Williams, 6. Roy Griffin, 7. Dan Pryor, 8. Jake Paringatai, 9. Sonatane Takulua, 10. Daniel Hawkins, 11. Rupeni Caucaunibuca, 12. Viliami Tahitu'a, 13. Derek Carpenter, 14. Rene Ranger (c), 15. Mathew Wright.

Substitutes: 16. Robbie Abel, 17. Ross Wright, 18. William Whetton, 19. Ben Berridge, 20. Mac Sykes, 21. Ben Seymour, 22. Warren Dunn.