Jono Kitto should provide the zing from set piece play for the Taniwha in one of two changes for the must-win game against Manawatu at Okara Park tonight.

On six points after just one victory from four outings, and single bonus points from two narrow losses, it's a fair bet that tonight's game and the next home fixture against Southland will make or break Northland's Mitre 10 Cup campaign this season.

A common narrative running through Northland and Manawatu so far this season is the same win-loss ratio and both teams will want to get back to winning ways in the seven-team Championship division.

Despite their disastrous results thus far, including a 50-point drubbing by Otago and a Ranfurly Shield loss to Taranaki, the Turbos are no pushovers and play an exciting brand of free-flowing rugby.


Northland haven't beaten the Turbos in seven years.

The last time Taniwha humiliated them - 77-8 in 2010 - the competition was known as the ITM Cup and the main grandstand at the then Toll Stadium had only just been completed.

Rene Ranger and Ross Wright are the only current players who last tasted victory against Manawatu.

The Turbos won 34-27 in Whangārei last year but may find the going tougher this time around with the calibre of players Northland have who can consistently scrummage well, win lineout ball, organise an effective driving maul and deliver quick tackle ball.

What the hosts need to watch out for is their discipline and what they need in bucket loads is composure, particularly in the last quarter when the opportunities to nail points are few and far in between.

Nothland need to make teams work for their points and to stop giving away cheap tries otherwise Okara Park will certainly be a fairly awful place for them and their fans to be midway through the competition.

When under pressure, it's easy to wilt, be unable to keep the opposition contained in their own half and let them stare at a scoreboard they don't like.

Handing Kitto his first start at halfback signals the Taniwha are keen for quick ball to unleash the likes of Ranger and their twin wings Jordan Hyland and Scott Gregory who can be just about unstoppable if they are given space in which to work.


An impressive No 9 out of Hikurangi, Kitto is a good communicator, is sharp, has a decent punt, and a knack for picking the right runner once space had been created.

It's a gamble head coach Derren Witcombe has taken but one that will pay off if Kitto marshals the backs and forwards well in concert with power boot Jack Debreczeni.

Regular halfback Sam Nock is on the bench together with replacement first five-eighth Myles Thoroughgood, who has had a stellar club season with champions Kamo this year.

Ranger and Blake Hohaia will again form the midfield partnership, Matty Wright will play fullback, while Gregory and Hyland complete the backline for Northland.

In the forwards, lock Temo Mayanavanua is out of the match 23 and Josh Goodhue will play alongside Tom Robinson as his locking partner.

Isi Tu'ungafasi will replace injured loosehead prop Ross Wright in the only change to the front row while captain Jordan Olsen and Ropate Rinakama retain their spots.

Kara Pryor, Kane Jacobson, and Matt Matich form the loose forward trio.

The match kicks off at 5.45pm today.