Steamers coach Kevin Schuler is heralding a return to traditional Bay of Plenty rugby as the key to the upcoming ITM Cup campaign.
The former All Blacks loose forward was happy with his side's opening 35-0 pre-season dismissal of Hawke's Bay Saracens in Rotorua last week — especially the return to the hard-nosed attitude that for years made the Bay one of the least favoured provincial opposition in the country.
"There was a hint of the Bay mongrel coming back with the physicality we brought right through the line," Schuler said.
"We had strong defenders right across the park and that made it difficult for Hawke's Bay.
"It was the nature of the game that pleased me. Last year against Manawatu we lost at the death and that pattern seemed to repeat itself in games during the competition.
"It was really good that we held them out on full-time and kept them to zero. To play 80 minutes of rugby after a really heavy, physical loading week was the most satisfying thing for the team."
Kane Hames and Nathan Harris were not considered for selection due to their inclusion in the All Blacks training squad, while damaging midfielder Teddy Stanaway has been given another week on the sidelines to recover from concussion.
"He's training really well but it's still just a little bit too soon.
"It will be good to have him back in the team environment, but we'll just give him one more week to get him to 100 per cent and make sure he's fully clear of any symptoms."
Hamish Gosling will pack down at openside flanker in a loose forward trio completed by Johan Bardoul at his preferred position of blindside flanker and the returning Carl Axtens, with Rotoiti's Jesse Acton to cover all three positions off the bench.
Whakarewarewa prop Seigfried Fisihoii and second five-eighth Doug Edwards have both been named in the starting line up.
Counties, who employ a fairly simple attacking structure predicated on their array of strong one-on-one threats, are likely to represent a step up in competition for the Steamers in a match that has been given first-class status. "These guys will test us and certainly our support of the ball carrier a lot better."
The Tana Umaga-coached side is stacked with firepower, including Bundee Aki, Augustine Pulu, Rey Lee-lo, Augustine Pulu, Sherwin Stowers and Frank Halai.
They proved too strong for North Harbour in their last pre-season match at Onewa Domain, kicking away in the second half to win 19-7 after trailing 5-7 at the break.
Halai, Sekeli Nabou and Toni Pulu dotted down in the three-tries-to-one victory, but the overwhelming feeling around the ground was the South Aucklanders had left plenty of points out on the paddock.
Kick-off at Rugby Park is at 2.45pm, with the curtain-raiser between the Opotiki College and Trident High School First XVs to begin at 12.30pm.
Admission for students under 14-years-old and children under 5 is free.