whangarei

Prop Jack Straker is the only debutant to start in a formidable Northland side to face North Harbour in the ITM Cup opener tonight.

An win for the Taniwha will give the side confidence heading into two tough home games against Auckland and Taranaki in the second and third rounds respectively.

Veteran hooker Matt Moulds will again lead the side and will be ably assisted in the front row by Wellsford's Ross Wright, with debutant Straker the other prop.

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Tom Robinson, one of two Kerikeri players in the match-day 23, and the impressive Josh Goodhue from Kamo will be the twin locks.

Hurricanes' rep Murray Douglas, seasoned campaigner Kara Pryor and workaholic No 8 Jaycob Matiu will form the loose forward trio at QBE Stadium.

A predictable selection in the halves where head coach Derren Witcombe has named Sam Nock at halfback and former Rebels and Honda Heat Jack Debreczeni at first five.

It will be Debreczeni's first taste of ITM Cup apart from playing in a pre-season hit-out against Southland last week.

A versatile No 10 with deceptive hands and a big boot, his kicks at goal will be pivotal and may decide the final outcome.

Utility Rene Ranger will start on the wing alongside another Wellsford rep Jordan Hyland on the other wing while Kamo players Blake Hohaia and Tamati Tua form the midfield pair.

Matty Wright will play fullback.

Witcombe has named five debutants on the bench plus Matt Matich, Jordan Olsen and Ropate Rinakama, who is the only Fijian in the playing squad.

Isileli Tu'ungafasi, Kane Jacobson, Jono Kitto, Myles Thoroughgood and Scott Gregory will make their debuts from the bench if required.

Players with Super Rugby experience include Moulds, Wright, Ranger, Nock, Douglas, Debreczeni, Goodhue, and Pryor.

Last year, Northland reached the semifinal where they lost to Wellington and Witcombe expects his side to qualify for the playoffs again this season.

North Harbour have the likes of All Black Karl Tu'inukuafe, Blues reps James Parsons, Matt Duffie, Bryn Gatland, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Crusaders' Bryn Hall, Highlanders' Tevita Li, and Chiefs' Shaun Stevenson.

The match kicks off at 7.35pm.

Northland's other home matches will be against Manawatu (September 14), Southland (September 20), and Waikato (October 6).

Away games are against North Harbour (tonight), Otago (September 7), Hawke's Bay (September 26), Counties-Manukau (September 30) and Bay of Plenty (October 13).