Mitre 10 Cup Championship
North Harbour v Bay of Plenty
QBE Stadium, Albany
Saturday October 1, 2.35pm
North Harbour want to make QBE Stadium a fortress, so they have designs on going 4-0 at home this season as they prepare to face down the Bay of Plenty Steamers tomorrow.
Harbour lie fourth on the Championship table, two points clear of Bay of Plenty, but with a game in hand. In the wet against Southland last Sunday, there were again guilty of pushing too many passes in contact, while their early kicking was scratchy, but they righted the ship to post the vital bonus point 35-14 victory on the fulltime whistle.
The only change in the starting XV sees Glen Preston come into the loose forwards for the injured Brandon Nansen, pushing skipper Chris Vui to lock.
"Losing Brandon changes what we do in the middle of the field. Not many guys carry like him, but Glen Preston is an old hand and provides a lot of leadership," says Harbour assistant coach Daniel Halangahu.
There is obviously the carrot of a Ranfurly Shield challenge against Canterbury next Friday looming, but Halangahu says the team will not be thinking about that until about 5pm tomorrow.
"We've had a tilt at the Shield already this year. Unfortunately it wasn't to be that day, but everything is focused on Bay of Plenty this week. They are a good team and they've done us the last two years," says Halangahu.
"We've taken a few bangs and JP (James Parsons) is out again this week (still with concussion symptoms), but guys like Chris Vui are really stepping up."
Halangahu says his body has enjoyed the transition from playing to coaching. His focus with the backs has been on core skills.
"We've looked at basic passing, getting the ball to the edges. This team's always had quality guys on the edges. Tevita Li showed what he could do with a few opportunities last week, and also Matt Duffie out wide too."
Three wins out of four will likely be needed to cement a spot in the Championship.
Bay of Plenty will not lack for motivation either. They are hanging in the semifinals race, but will also celebrate the century of games for lock and captain Culum Retallick. He will be the 17th Steamers' centurion, nine years after his 2007 debut.
His coach Clayton McMillan paid tribute to an increasingly rare achievement.
"For Culum to reach 100 games it is testament to his playing ability and loyalty to the jersey. He is an integral part of the side and has grown into a knowledgeable and well respected leader. I can't recall him ever having a bad day at the office which sums him up really. Nothing flashy, just hard work, sound in his core roles, makes his tackles, has high expectations of himself and demands the same from others. He is a great team man who has earned every cap and deserves every accolade that comes his way," said McMillan.
The Steamers have made four changes to their line-up, including James O'Reilly in at hooker for Liam Polwart, who was concussed against Auckland in the 44-38 loss in Rotorua last Sunday.
*Live commentary of this match is on Radio Sport and iHeart Radio from 2.35pm on Saturday.
North Harbour: Matt McGahan, Matt Duffie, Matt Vaega, Michael Little, Tevita Li, Bryn Gatland, Chris Smylie, Murphy Taramai, Connor Collett, Glen Preston, Chris Vui (c), Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Sione Mafileo, Adrian Smith, Nic Mayhew; Reserves: Vyron Smith, Hani Fatai, Jethro Felemi, Josh Tyrell, Kane Jacobson, Bryn Hall, Daniel Hilton-Jones, Afa Fa'atau
Bay of Plenty: Isaac Te Aute, Monty Ioane, Lalakai Foketi, Teddy Stanaway, Regan Ware, Dan Hollinshead, Ruki Tipuna, Joe Tupe, Hugh Blake, Shahn Eru, Culum Retallick (c), Keepa Mewett, Pingi Tala'apitaga, James O'Reilly, Aidan Ross; Reserves: Joe Royal, Solomona Sakalia, Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, Jesse Parete, Henry Stowers, Luke Campbell, Kelly Haimona, Te Rangi Fraser