North Harbour will be desperate to ensure they do not have their usual sluggish start when the Mitre 10 Cup season swings into gear tomorrow night in Albany.
Harbour have been slow out of the blocks in the last two season and it has partially cost them Championship semifinal berths. But now they must replicate last season's corresponding fixture on this ground, where they toppled Premiership side Counties Manukau 28-20.
Coach Steve Jackson has named four debutants in the starting XV plus four more on the bench, while evergreen halfback Chris Smylie will make his 50th appearance for the union should he enter the fray.
North Harbour will look to their Super Rugby players to lead the way, and hooker/captain James Parsons, well rested after a heavy workload with the Blues, halfback Bryn Hall and wing Tevita Li will need to be influential.
"There is no question we have a big task ahead of ourselves. Counties are a big, physical side who will look to dominate the contact area. We need to execute our game plan and then have trust in the structures that we have put in place. Sticking to our processes, and what we know works for this group, is critical to our success," says Jackson, mindful that a 3-0 pre-season record, including victory over Auckland, counts for little, but is perhaps an indication that North Harbour's implementation of the new breakdown trial laws in their club rugby gave them an advantage.
Wing Mark Telea has played himself onto the bench after some sterling form for his Massey club and then for North Harbour in pre-season.
Counties Manukau have potentially 11 debutants, and new coach Darryl Suasua hopes they are all up to speed as fast as possible with the new laws.
"No one's really talked about last year's result, but I guess the guys who were there (nine of this 23) were disappointed. That was a turning point for the season, from what I can gather," Suasua says.
There is talent aplenty in the Steelers, and the side will be even stronger next week when their two All Blacks Sevens reps are back on deck, plus others returning from injury. Jimmy Tupou will captain the side from lock.
Kickoff is at 7.35pm, preceded by the 5.15pm Harbour 1A First XV final between perennial favourites Westlake BHS and Massey, who have not tasted championship glory since 2011.
North Harbour: Matt Duffie, Afa Fa'atau, Matt Vaega, Michael Little, Tevita Li, Matt McGahan, Bryn Hall, Murphy Taramai, Kane Jacobson, Chris Vui, Brandon Nansen, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Sione Mafileo, James Parsons (c), Nic Mayhew; Reserves: Vyron Smith, Adrian Smith, Karl Tuinukuafe, Glen Preston, Dylan Lam, Chris Smylie, Bryn Gatland, Mark Telea
Counties Manukau: Joe Reynolds, Sam Vaka, Joseph Ikenasio, Cardiff Vaega, Sherwin Stowers, Piers Francis, Richard Judd, So'otala Fa'aso'o, Fotu Lokotui, Jordan Taufua, Jimmy Tupou (c), Viliame Rarasea, Kalolo Tuiloma, Gafatasi Sua, Sean Bagshaw; Reserves: Suliasi Taufalele, Jarred Adams, Sione Faletau, Matiaha Martin, Viliami Taulani, Jonathan Taumateine, Kali Hala, Luteru Laulala
Mitre 10 Cup crossover
North Harbour v Counties Manukau
QBE Stadium, Albany