Northland are ready for their biggest challenge in 2017 - a Mitre 10 Cup semifinal against Wellington.

Northland go in as big underdogs after going down 36-18 to the Championship leaders last week, meaning results had to go their way for them to qualify. And go their way they did.

Captain Matt Moulds said there was a bit of tension during Hawke's Bay's win over Manawatu.

"We're pretty stoked to get to this position, especially after the weekend," he said.

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"We weren't really sure what was going on. When the final whistle blew there was certainly some cheering going on in my flat that's for sure. We're pretty pumped."

Northland have righted the rocking ship that had struggled over the previous two campaigns with coach Derren Witcombe a big part of the resurgence.

He said they had hit their first marker but there was a lot more still to accomplish, including tidying up their game ahead of tonight's match.

"Making it to this position was a goal. We spoke about it as a group that it would be good to be able to achieve that," he said.

"It's just the first goal and now we've got to make sure we perform.

Coach Derren Witcombe said there were some things to work on but he's confident that Northland can beat Wellington. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Coach Derren Witcombe said there were some things to work on but he's confident that Northland can beat Wellington. Photo / Michael Cunningham

"Our finishing needs work. We're still pushing one or two too many passes so we need to be patient and keep the pressure on them when we have ball in hand.

"Our discipline on defence needs to improve too. We're just giving away penalties at the wrong time and at the wrong end of the field."

Northland stayed with Wellington until the early stages of the second half last week when the introduction of hooker Asafo Aumua off the bench proved the turning point.

The Taniwha should be buoyed by their efforts though, however an 80-minute performance will be required to deal Wellington just their second defeat in 2017.

Shutting down their backline will be a must. The likes of first five Jackson Garden-Bachop, centre Wes Goosen and wing Julian Savea have the innate ability to break the game wide open so limiting their opportunities is paramount.

That isn't out of reach for Northland, who finished the regular season with the second best defensive record in the competition. And with the firepower they possess, there's no reason why they can't put pressure on the home side.

The battle of the front rows will also be a vital one. Asafo Aumua will start at hooker for Wellington after a strong impact performance last week. It'll be up to Ross Wright, Moulds and Ropate Rinakama to minimise the threat of both Aumua and fellow try-scoring front rower Alex Fidow.

The game kicks off at 7:35pm.

Northland: Solomon Alaimalo, Jordan Hyland, Rene Ranger, Jack Goodhue, Jone Macilai, Dan Hawkins, Sam Nock, Matt Matich, Kara Pryor, Dan Pryor, Murray Douglas, Josh Goodhue, Ropate Rinakama, Matt Moulds (c), Ross Wright.
Reserves: Jordan Olsen, Phil Kite, Chris Apoua, Michael Faleafa, Jack Ram, Emil Pittman, Peter Breen, Tamati Tua.

Wellington: Trent Renata, Julian Savea, Wes Goosen, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Ben Lam, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Sheridan Rangihuna, Galu Taufale, Mateaki Kafatolu, Brad Shields (c), James Blackwell, Sam Lousi, Alex Fidow, Asafo Aumua, Tolu Fahamokioa.
Reserves: Sitiveni Paongo, Vince Sakaria, Joe Apikotoa, Will Mangos, Du'Plessis Kirifi, Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, Regan Verney, Malo Tuitama.

Played: 37, 1939-2017
Wellington wins: 26
Northland wins: 9
Draws: 2
Last match: Wellington 38-16 - October 12, 2017 in Wellington (Mitre 10 Cup)
Last Northland win: Northland 35-5 - August 23, 2014 in Whangarei (ITM Cup)
Biggest Wellington score: 65-12 - October 2, 2004 in Wellington (NPC)
Biggest Northland score: 37-10 - August 26, 1989 in Whangarei (NPC)
Biggest differential: Wellington by 53 (65-12) - October 2, 2004 in Wellington (NPC)