A daunting task awaits the Taniwha as the embattled side make the two-hour journey south to Eden Park to face Auckland tonight.
Taking on an Auckland side who won't be happy after losing last week's Ranfurly Shield match against Hawke's Bay by the slimmest of margins, head coach Richie Harris expects Auckland will bite back pretty hard tonight as they look to brush aside the Taniwha en route to a ITM Cup Premiership semifinal appearance.
"We've got Auckland coming up and it's really about gearing up for what they present which is a massive challenge," Harris said. "They've got a lot of individuals which cause a lot of damage ... I know the boys will bring a bit of attitude against Auckland, but either way that's going to be a beat-up which will really challenge us for the next two games."
Though Northland have suffered a fair amount of damage already this season, Harris said the squad remained upbeat - a hard image to fathom given the current points differential of -192 from their seven losses this year.
"It doesn't matter which team it is, there's always cracks in the wall. Winning teams plaster over them because they're winning, and with our results they've become more visible. Touch wood, it's been really good - they're a tight bunch. They've been hard on themselves, as has the management, but morale and tightness within the group's been really good."
Back in the mix to play Auckland, co-captain Matt Moulds rejoins the Taniwha after missing last week's match against Bay of Plenty with a minor back issue. "Losing a bit of experience through that set piece probably accounted for a wee bit there," Harris added of Moulds' absence last week.
Out for the Auckland match, Jordan Hyland is facing some time on the sideline after potentially popping a screw on an old ankle injury during last week's match against Bay of Plenty, and will be replaced by Warren Dunn in the midfield.
Other notable changes include Matt Talaese starting at prop, lock Sean Sweetman starting over Josh Goodhue, Kurt Davies wearing the No9 jersey in place of Sam Nock and Warren Dunn returning to the centres after recovering from a hamstring injury.
As well, Argentinian import Tomaz Ramirez is in line for his debut off the pine, with prop Namatahi Waa ruled out for the trip to Auckland.
Kick-off is 7.35pm.