The Bay of Plenty (Te Waiariki) Steamers have made few changes to their side this week, despite going down to Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington) in Rotorua last week.
That 16-15 loss saw them retain second place on the Championship table but they have Otago and this week's opposition Taranaki breathing down their necks.
Taranaki will also be smarting after they let the Ranfurly Shield slip from their grasp in their narrow 35-27 loss to Ōtākou (Otago) last weekend. They will be keen to take their frustrations out on the Steamers when they host them at Yarrow Stadium in Ngāmotu (New Plymouth) tomorrow at 2.35pm.
However, the Steamers will be no easy beats after dominating territory and possession against Wellington. It is the second time this season they have had a Premier team on the ropes and haven't delivered the knock-out punch.
Steamers coach Clayton McMillan is confident he has the side to beat any team in the Mitre 10 Cup.
The forward pack is a revelation this season, often dominating their opponents at scrum time.
With Sam Cane on Rugby World Cup duties, Mitch Karpik has made the poutaha wātea (openside flanker) role his own this season, turning over opposition ball regularly and having the speed and power to break tackles almost at will.
Poutaha kūiti (Blindside flanker) Hugh Blake uses his 103kg frame as if he has little regard for his own safety while Ajay Mua is deceptively quick and doesn't need an invitation to wreak havoc around the paddock from the nama waru (No 8).
The backline boats the always exciting 40-game veteran Chase Tiatia along with 32-game stalwart Dan Hollinshead and live wire Richard Judd. Add the youth, excitement and enthusiasm of Kaleb Trask and Mathew Skipwith-Garland as well as the blistering pace of Fa'asiu Fuatai and Emoni Narawa, and McMillan has good reason to be confident in his side.
McMillan says the team has had a good build up for the clash with Taranaki.
"I reckon it's been one of our better preparation weeks to be fair. We took some encouragement from our performance against Wellington. We were disappointed with the outcome but we're encouraged with the things we managed to achieve and we've taken the learnings into this week."
He expects a good challenge from Taranaki.
"Taranaki are a good side and well coached. They have a good roster and a proud history. So at home we expect them to be a really tough, and they would have come away from last week with some areas that need to be improved to get a better outcome this week."
Two players reach a special milestone for the Steamers this weekend, Fuatai and lock Aaron Carroll play their blazer games (15) when the take to the field.
Bay of Plenty Steamers team to play Taranaki:
1. Aidan Ross (C) (29)
2. Nathan Vella (2)
3. Ross Geldenhuys (13)
4. Baden Wardlaw (13)
5. Alex Ainley (3)
6. Hugh Blake (29)
7. Mitchell Karpik (21)
8. Ajay Mua (10)
9. Richard Judd (22)
10. Kaleb Trask (9)
11. Fa'asiu Fuatai ** (14)
12. Dan Hollinshead (32)
13. Mathew Skipwith-Garland (11)
14. Emoni Narawa (6)
15. Chase Tiatia (40)
16. Kurt Eklund (5)
17. Tevita Mafileo (4)
18. Jeff Thwaites (36)
19. Aaron Carroll ** (14)
20. Hoani Matenga (13)
21. Leroy Carter (4)
22. Jason Robertson (8)
23. Joe Ravouvou (3)
* Denotes debut
** Denotes blazer game – 15 games
() Denotes games played
Steamers vs Taranaki
Saturday, September 14
Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth