Rugby: Nth Harbour running out of premiership contention

By David Leggat

North Harbour will play Hawkes Bay tonight. Photo / Getty Images
North Harbour will play Hawkes Bay tonight. Photo / Getty Images

It seems indecently early to be talking about games in the must-win category, but North Harbour's home clash with Hawkes Bay tonight just about fits that hackneyed bill.

A glance at the ITM Cup championship ladder gives a clue.

Manawatu lead on 11 points, Counties Manukau have 10. Hawkes Bay are fourth on eight, two points and one spot ahead of Harbour.

Should Harbour lose - and it's five years since they last beat Hawkes Bay - they will be in danger of dropping off the pace in a competition where the top two teams will contest the final, with a promotion for the winner to the premiership.

So it's essential those with top-flight aspirations stay handy to the pace in a hectic campaign.

Harbour's dusting of Tasman last week was encouraging; the beating from the flying Bay of Plenty 38-17 in Mt Maunganui much less so.

Harbour coach Liam Barry has done some tinkering for tonight. Codey Rei is recalled at fullback with the experienced Willie Walker moving forward to the No 10 job, giving Ben Botica a spell on the bench.

Michael Mayhew starts at hooker, having sat out the BOP game; the diligent Brent Wilson switches to the blindside for Solomon King, and transplanted Cantabrian Sam Hayes-Stevenson gets his first start in the No 7 jersey.

The only player not considered was classy outside back Rudi Wulf, who is still recovering from a shoulder injury picked up against Tasman.

He is expected to be ready to return against Manawatu next Tuesday.

Hawkes Bay look to be finding traction.

They lost to Manawatu - the surprise package of the championship to date - in their opening game, then beat Southland by 11 points before seeing off Otago 27-13 last weekend.

Hawkes Bay missed the top seven premiership last season by one place.

An ambitious union, making this a one-season stop in the championship is sure to be central to their strategic planning.

North Harbour Stadium, 7.35 tonight

North Harbour

Codey Rei
Ken Pisi
Nafi Tuitavake
Luke McAlister
David Raikuna
Willie Walker
Chris Smylie (c)
Mat Luamanu
Sam Hayes-Stevenson
Brent Wilson
Filo Paulo
James King
Ben Afeaki
Michael Mayhew
Michael Reid

Hawkes Bay

Richard Buckman
Tu Umaga-Marshall
Tua Saseve
Andrew Horrell
Gillies Kaka
Daniel Kirkpatrick
Kahn Fotuali'i
Karl Lowe
Adam Bradey
T. Boswell-Wakefield
Brodie Retallick
Bryn Evans
Ben Tameifuna
Hika Elliot (c)
Sona Taumalolo

North Harbour: James Parssons, James Afoa, Chris Smith, Solomon King, Brenton Helleur, Ben Botica, Brendon Watt, Taione Vea.

Hawkes Bay: Hikairo Forbes, Anthony Perenise, Ashton Johnson, Hugh Reed, Chris Eaton, Ryan McLeod, Tino Nemani, Logovi'i Mulipola.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 29 Oct 2016 07:26:10 Processing Time: 623ms