Rugby: Counties and Wellington to contest new prize

By Campbell Burnes

Jonah Lomu's provincial legacy will be remembered tomorrow. Photo / photosport.co.nz
Jonah Lomu's provincial legacy will be remembered tomorrow. Photo / photosport.co.nz

The inaugural Jonah Tali Lomu Memorial Trophy goes on the line tomorrow night in Pukekohe.

The Steelers meet the Lions in a crossover match with more than just competition points at stake. Lomu played for both unions in his storied career, but he did start out at Counties Manukau.

Steelers coach Darryl Suasua was quick to emphasise that fact.

"It's important for the boys. We see Jonah as one of ours, quite frankly. This is where he started," said Suasua.

The Steelers will be wearing special edition jerseys that are based on those that were worn by Lomu and his teammates in the 1990s.

There is one change to the Steelers' starting side from the group that pumped Hawke's Bay last week, with Suliasi Taufalele in for Gafatasi Sua at hooker. There is some reshuffling on the bench and Matt Vaai is in line to make his debut.

Hika Elliot and Cameron Skelton are still on ice.

Suasua is pleased with the work of his young and inexperienced pack, with two rookies making names for themselves in lock Matiaha Martin and prop Kalolo Tuiloma.

"Kalolo and Sean Bagshaw, along with Matiaha and Viliame Rarasea, have been outstanding. Every week they've come up against Super Rugby front-rows and every week they've done the job. We had a scrum on our own line against Hawke's Bay and we turned them over. That was significant," says Suasua.

Controlling the game tempo and consistency are the bywords for success against the Lions, who have had their own issues with consistency thus far.

Wellington are 2-1 but needed Jackson Garden-Bachop's boot to edge North Harbour last weekend.

"They haven't quite hit their straps yet, but they've got some special players, like Brad Shields, and Matt Proctor is a real threat. There's plenty more to come," warned Suasua.

Shields himself will wear the No 7 jersey, in a further signal that fetchers are marginalised in this Mitre 10 Cup. Reggie Goodes and Mark Reddish return from injury via the bench, while Sam Lousi is at lock.

"We are expecting Counties Manukau to bring a lot of physicality to this match and Sam give us a little more size up front in that regard. Likewise, Hoani and Brad are both very physical guys at the breakdown, and no doubt Greg Foe will add some spark later in the match from the reserves," says Lions coach Earl Va'a.

"Counties Manukau will be very motivated, as will we, by playing for Jonah's memorial trophy for the first time, so no doubt it's going to be a real battle."

Both sides are third on their respective tables.

The Steelers hammered Chris Boyd's beleaguered Lions 55-7 in the last fixture in 2014.

The curtainraiser sees the unbeaten Counties Manukau Heat, featuring the return of Olympian Portia Woodman, host the Wellington Pride in the Farah Palmer Cup. Kickoff is at 5.05pm.

Counties Manukau Steelers: Luteru Laulala, Sione Molia, Sam Vaka, Cardiff Vaega, Sherwin Stowers, Piers Francis, August Pulu (c), So'otala Fa'aso'o, Jordan Taufua, Jimmy Tupou (c), Matiaha Martin, Viliame Rarasea, Kalolo Tuiloma, Suliasi Taufalele, Sean Bagshaw; Reserves: Gafatasi Sua, Sione Faletau, Jarred Adams, Matt Vaai, Viliami Taulani, Richard Judd, Joe Reynolds, Sione Fifita

Wellington Lions: Peter Umaga-Jensen, Joe Hill, Matt Proctor, Shaun Treeby, Wes Goosen, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Tomasi Palu, Hoani Matenga, Brad Shields (c), Vaea Fifita, Sam Lousi, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Chris Baumann, Leni Apisai, Vince Sakaria; Reserves: Asafo Aumua, Reggie Goodes, Joe Apikotoa, Mark Reddish, Greg Foe, Sheridan Rangihuna, TJ Va'a, Mike Lealava'a

- NZ Herald

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