The Counties Manukau squad for Sunday's Premiership semifinal in Christchurch has more brackets than Mitre 10.

Coach Darryl Suasua is not only dealing with bangs, bumps and bruises, and has lost first five Piers Francis with a broken hand, but halfback August Pulu has been shuttling back and forth between All Blacks training this week as the third No 9 after Aaron Smith was stood down. Co-captain Jimmy Tupou has an eye injury, but if the bleeding stops in good time, he will take his usual place at blindside.

Lu Laulala, who made a good fist of the pivot role in the second half of last weekend's 33-16 win over Canterbury, looks likely to slot in at No 10 in place of Francis. Hika Elliot drops back to the bench and Gafatasi Sua wins back his hooking berth.

Suasua knows there is plenty of belief in his charges, but he is expecting an altogether different proposition from the defending champs after they descended into error-ridden offence and porous defence in Pukekohe last Saturday. Richard Judd finished a memorable try, set up by a searing Sam Vaka break.


"With a couple of little things done better, it could have been us sitting at the top of the table hosting a semifinal. We deserve to be in this position," says Suasua.

"The fact that no one has convincingly put us away suggests they are a tough young bunch," says Suasua.

One of that tough young bunch, though he is 26, is fullback/wing Toni Pulu, who ran in two tries with his pace last weekend. He is back playing with a finger that is still broken and needs strapping and a small splint, not to mention an operation as soon as the season is done and before his pre-season recommences with the Chiefs. He looks likely to run out at fullback on Sunday.

"It's our first semi since 2013, so we're excited. All the pressure is on them," says Pulu, who is eligible for no less than five nations - New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, USA and Australia.

He has no preference for either fullback or wing, and in fairness, it doesn't matter a lot with the Steelers' open style.

Canterbury have recalled lock Dominic Bird and No 10 Richie Mo'unga to their line-up, which has seven changes in all from the starting XV from last weekend against the same opponents.

They will also be on full alert to shut down the Steelers and prevent the visitors' first appearance in the top provincial final since 1997.

*Live commentary of this match is on Radio Sport and iHeart Radio from 2.35pm on Sunday.
Mitre 10 Cup Premiership semifinal
Canterbury v Counties Manukau
AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Sunday, 2.35pm

Canterbury: Johnny McNicholl, Nathan Earle, Jack Goodhue, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Ere Enari, Luke Whitelock (c), Tom Sanders, Reed Prinsep, Dominic Bird, Scott Barrett, Siate Tokolahi, Ben Funnell, Alex Hodgman.
Reserves: Nathan Vella, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Oli Jager, Dave McDuling, Billy Harmon, Jack Stratton, Inga Finau, Ben Volavola

Counties Manukau: Luteru Laulala/Toni Pulu, Sione Fifita, Sam Vaka, Cardiff Vaega, Sherwin Stowers, Laulala/Jonathan Taumateine, Augustine Pulu/Richard Judd (c), So'otala Fa'aso'o, Jordan Taufua, Jimmy Tupou (c)/Matt Vaai, Matiaha Martin, Viliame Rarasea, Sean Paranihi, Gafatasi Sua, Pauliasi Manu.
Reserves: Hika Elliot, Sean Bagshaw, Sione Faletau/Kalolo Tuiloma, Matt Vaai/Viliami Taulani/Cameron Skelton, Onosa'i Auva'a, Richard Judd/Taumateine, Joe Ikenasio, Toni Pulu/Nathan de Thierry