Both sides have plenty of players who have made powerful contributions in both Super Rugby Aotearoa and Mitre 10 Cup rugby this year.
MATCH DETAILS: Māori All Blacks v Moana Pasifika presented by Sky, Saturday 5 December, 7.05pm, FMG Stadium, Hamilton. TICKETS. Watch LIVE on Sky Sport CH 51.
One key area of conflict between the sides is shaping at lock. The Māori All Blacks have named Isaia Walker-Leawere and Manaaki Selby-Rickit while Moana Pasifika have Gerard Cowley-Tuioti and Naitoa Ah Kuoi, one of the finds of the season. Backing up for the Māori All Blacks in the lineout is blindside flanker Whetukamokamo Douglas. Their combination with skipper and hooker Ash Dixon will put plenty of pressure on Moana Pasifika to perform when the Māori All Blacks look to get their rolling maul rumbling.
Both sides have some outstanding potential in their backline. Moana Pasifika have All Blacks first five-eighths Josh Ioane to provide the guidance with Folau Fakatava inside him and dangerous performers like wings Salesi Rayasi and Leicester Fainga'anuku, second five-eighths Vince Aso and fullback Stephen Perofeta to take advantages of opportunities. Otere Black has the leadership role for the Māori All Blacks outside halfback Bryn Hall. Seasoned players Sean Wainui and Shaun Stevenson take the wing spots with rising talents Quinn Tupaea and Billy Proctor in the midifield with impressive Bay of Plenty youngster Kaleb Trask at fullback.
Continuing the trend of players returning from their overseas experience, coach Clayton McMillan called on the value to be had from involving former All Black loose forward Liam Messam, and Super Rugby prop Josh Hohneck in his squad. "We felt the likes of Liam and Josh, guys that have been in the jersey historically, gone away and plied their trade overseas, have come back added real value to their Mitre 10 Cup teams. It's a no-brainer for us. They are still good enough, but the peripheral stuff they bring, the mana and the knowledge, and their ability to set really high standards for young people to follow have been instrumental in pulling these guys together," he said. With eight players new to the experience that is even more essential.
Captain Ash Dixon has the opportunity to roll the curtain down on one of the finest years of his career in leading the side. Having been part of the memorable Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign with his Highlanders side, he returned to his Hawke's Bay base to help the side lift, and retain, the Ranfurly Shield. Then, he backed that by leading the side back into the Mitre 10 Premiership next season after dominating the Championship competition. There was also the small fact that he contributed nine tries to the effort.
Māori All Blacks: 1.Pouri Rakete-Stones, 2.Ash Dixon (captain), 3.Josh Hohneck, 4.Isaia Walker-Leawere, 5.Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 6.Whetukamokamo Douglas, 7.Billy Harmon, 8.Liam Messam, 9.Bryn Hall, 10.Otere Black, 11.Sean Wainui, 12.Quinn Tupaea, 13.Billy Proctor, 14.Shaun Stevenson, 15.Kaleb Trask.
Substitutes: 16.Kurt Eklund, 17.Ross Wright, 18.Tamaiti Williams, 19.Ethan Roots, 20.Mitchell Karpik, 21.Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22.Rameka Poihipi, 23.Mathew Skipwith-Garland
Moana Pasifika: 1.Daniel Lienert-Brown, 2.Leni Apisai, 3.Michael Alaalatoa (captain), 4.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5.Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 6.Peseta Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, 7.Alamanda Motuga, 8.Pita-Gus Sowakula, 9.Folau Fakatava, 10.Josh Ioane, 11.Salesi Rayasi, 12.Vince Aso, 13.Fetuli Paea, 14.Leicester Fainga'anuku, 15.Stephen Perofeta.
Subsitutes: 16.Samisoni Taukie'aho, 17.Jordan Lay, 18.Sione Mafileo, 19.Samipeni Finau, 20.Tavake Manu, 21.Dwayne Polataivao, 22.Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 23.Taimalelagi Etene Nanai-Seturo.