North Harbour v Southland
QBE Stadium, Albany
Steve Jackson's elevation to the Blues for 2017 coincides with North Harbour's desperate search for four, and preferably five, Mitre 10 Cup Championship points this Sunday.
Harbour's record stands at a spotty 2-3, but they would have done enough to beat unbeaten Otago last Saturday, were it not for a plethora of errors in contact.
Now they must defeat the Southland Stags, one place below them on the Championship, but coming off their maiden win of 2016, a 20-16 Wednesday night result over Bay of Plenty. The Stags will not have travelling All Blacks Elliot Dixon and Lima Sopoaga, but they will have halfback Jimmy Cowan, and he will be in their faces all afternoon. Both opposing halfbacks are aged 34, with Harbour veteran Chris Smylie winning a start.
Coach Jackson says Harbour are under no illusions as to how hard Southland will be.
"They played well on Wednesday to win their first game, so they'll be tough," he says. He might have added that Southland won on their last visit to Albany, in 2014.
"If we can nullify our error rate, then hopefully those opportunities will stick. We're pretty close to putting out a performance we can be really happy with."
There is good and bad news in squad updates.
On the plus side, Matt Duffie returns from a short-term shoulder injury and will play on the right wing, while Brandon Nansen forced his way into the starting line-up with an energised display off the bench against Otago. He was benched then due to an unspecified standards breach.
On the debit side, captain James Parsons is still battling concussion symptoms, while his understudy Vyron Smith is out with a bruised ankle, so prop Adrian Smith switches to rake to show his wares in the No 2 jersey, having played there occasionally for his Massey club.
Jackson says the news about his Blues role will not be a distraction.
"I've still got a season to finish off. Our goal - to reach the semifinals - hasn't changed. The first couple of years here was about creating a culture where players were going to succeed within our group. A lot of guys got promoted to Super, which was great for our team. We would like to have won more games, but we are starting to see the fruits of the work we've put in," he says.
*Live commentary of this match is on Radio Sport and iHeart Radio from 2.35pm on Sunday.
North Harbour: Matt McGahan, Matt Duffie, Matt Vaega, Michael Little, Tevita Li, Bryn Gatland, Chris Smylie, Murphy Taramai, Connor Collett, Chris Vui (c), Brandon Nansen, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Sione Mafileo, Adrian Smith, Nic Mayhew
Reserves: Kalem Chan-Boon, Hani Fatai, Karl Tuinukuafe, Glen Preston, Hapakuki Moala-Liava'a, Bryn Hall, Daniel Hilton-Jones, Afa Fa'atau
Southland: Junior Ngaluafe, Mike Molloy, Dylan Collier, James Schrader, Jaye Thompson-Te Muunu, Wharenui Hawera, Jimmy Cowan, Josh Clark, Tim Boys, Bill Fukofuka, Matt Philip, Mike McKee, Guy Millar, Brayden Mitchell, Joseph Walsh
Reserves: Jason Rutledge, Peni Mavi, Morgan Mitchell, Mike Stewart, Mika Mafi, Michael Dowsett, Kieran Moffat, Tauasosi Tuimavave