Photo / Michael Cunningham
Northland Taniwha's clash with reigning Premiership champions, the Tasman Mako, in Blenheim tonight will be the ideal springboard to test the true state of their readiness to go deep in this year's Mitre 10 Cup competition.
The loss of All Blacks midfielder Jack Goodhue and first five Dan Hawkins to injury is a huge blow for a side looking to overpower a team boasting a ridiculous amount of creative talent.
A 43-26 win for Northland over Manawatu in the opening round in Whangārei last weekend was pleasing but a herculean effort is required for Northland to topple the Mako who can sniff weakness like their namesake shark.
The Cambridge Blue cannot give them even a hint they are playing for time - passively, rather than actively, managing their strategy — otherwise it will be all over by halftime.
Northland head coach George Konia is acutely aware of the challenge facing his side in Blenheim tonight."We just wanna focus on ourselves. It's going to be a tough ask, no matter who you play with a five-day turnaround. Tasman showed in their win over Counties Manukau that they can be flustered and pressured.
"For us, the key is to play in the right parts of the field which is a big work-on for us, and to exert enough pressure," Konia said.
He knows Northland cannot afford the sort of stuttering start they showed last weekend which he attributed to a lack of pre-season games and insufficient time for new combinations to gel.
However, the pleasing part from a coaching perspective was that the lack of cohesion became less obvious as the game wore on and it looked as if they were better able to pick when and where the ball should be going.
"We stayed in the fight, fought back and changed the momentum of the game. The emphasis on competing at set-piece paid off and our lineout was very good, and just nailing our core roles," he said.
Tamati Tua will pair with Rene Ranger in midfield and the latter will have to lift his game big time after a relatively quiet game last weekend.
The duo will face off with Mako skipper David Havili, who returns from an extended injury absence, with Fetuli Paea wearing the No 13 jersey.
All Blacks Tyrel Lomax, Shannon Frizell, Sevu Reece and Will Jordan will provide the extra firepower against Northland.
Johnny Cooper and Ben Tou are on the bench for Northland and could make their debut while Fijian lock Temo Mayanavanua will play his blazer match.
Wiseguy Faiane will slot in at first five, Sam Nock has been retained as halfback, Pisi Leilua and Jordan Hyland are the wingers and Scott Gregory is back at fullback.
In the forwards, skipper Jordan Olsen, Luatangi Li and Tyler Kearns make up the front row, Sam Caird and Josh Goodhue form the second row, and Tom Robinson and Kara Pryor are the sorts of loosies required to attack the breakdown.
Sam MacNamara provides an option at lineout from No 8.
Hawkins, Jack Goodhue, Aorangi Stokes, Saimoni Uluinakauvadra, Ross Wright, Kane Jacobson, Rob Rush, and Kalolo Tuiloma are all in the casualty ward.
The match kicks off at 7pm.