Counties Manukau are steeling themselves for their first stern Ranfurly Shield defence of the season in Pukekohe this afternoon.
The match against Otago will be the sixth of the Steelers' tenure, and they have been bolstered with the return of Tim Nanai-Williams, who will come off the bench. Baden Kerr slips into the No10 jersey in place of Ahsee Tuala after Counties Manukau failed to impose themselves in the 9-all draw in the Taranaki wet last week.
Loosehead prop Pauliasi Manu is amped for another go at Ranfurly Shield rugby, after his first, off the bench for Auckland in 2008, saw him and his team defeated 27-0 by Wellington.
"I had a taste of it and we lost it, but now I have the chance to know the feeling of defending and winning it. It's a lot different to any other game. It feels like a semi or final. Everyone puts their body on the line," said the 26-year-old, who probably now rates as the fourth best loosehead in the country after another very solid Chiefs campaign.
"Taranaki was disappointing for us, but the transition and the gelling with the Super Rugby guys back was a bit rough. It was what Tana (Umaga) expected, though. We've had a lot of rest for (today) so we're fresh.
"Otago looked pretty tough against North Harbour. They upset their scrums. We've come up with some techniques to match them up."
Manu smiles when he reflects on how his career has panned out in the two years since he was delisted by the Blues in another baffling decision by the franchise. He was picked up by the Chiefs, won a Super title and reached 49 games for Auckland. Now settled in Hamilton, he felt the drive up the road to Steelers training was not as onerous as a daily commute to Auckland. Manu has a two-year deal with Counties Manukau.
Meanwhile, Charles Piutau moves back to fullback for Auckland in their ITM Cup crossover match against Manawatu in Palmerston North tomorrow. There is a backline reshuffle after injury to Lolagi Visinia saw him replaced by Ben Lam, making for a more balanced look to the Auckland backs with Hadleigh Parkes reverting to the second five position and George Moala to the wing, as Auckland seek to right the ship after the crushing loss to Canterbury in round one. Manawatu are unchanged after beating Northland on Sunday.