Opportunity will be knocking loudly on the door at the Cake Tin in Wellington tonight when an under-strength Wellington team play a similarly weakened Canterbury in the opening match of the NPC first division.

The match is a chance for players on both sides to stake a claim, not just for the immediate future, but for next year when the All Blacks will miss all of the NPC because of the World Cup.

It is also the first chance for the Wellington players to show their wares to new Hurricanes coaches Colin Cooper and Murray Roulston.

Canterbury field a side bearing no resemblance to the team who will later line up to defend their title.

Their All Blacks will begin to pour back into the provincial ranks from next week.

It is a chance Wellington can ill afford to waste, as skipper Shane Carter admitted after the team's training session yesterday.



"A win would mean that next week [when Wellington play Southland in Invercargill], it wouldn't be a must-win. We would be controlling our destiny."

Carter knows he is one of the players with a lot to prove because he had few chances to impress with the Hurricanes.

Lock Milton Ngauamo is in the same situation, as are injury-prone wing Brad Fleming and first five-eighth Riki Flutey.

New coaches mean that even some of the more established Hurricanes, such as Jason Spice and Dion Waller, need a big NPC to keep their names firmly in Super 12 consideration.



Wellington go into the match without a win in three pre-season games compared to Canterbury's three Ranfurly Shield defences.

Carter said the composition of the Canterbury team was irrelevant.

"Regardless of who plays for them, they tend to play to the same sort of game plan, so we can prepare for that."

What is without question is the spirit Canterbury will play with. They will tear into everything, particularly up front, and play with the fortitude that characterises the province.

Wellington need to play with a pride in the jersey that sometimes seems to be lacking.

They desperately need the forwards to provide a solid platform so Flutey can settle, find some confidence and play with authority.

Wellington: Shannon Paku, Lome Fa'atau, Ma'a Nonu, Brad Fleming, Norm Broughton, Riki Flutey, Jason Spice, Rodney So'oialo, Kupu Vanisi, Milton Ngauamo, Ross Kennedy, Luke Andrews, John Pale, Shane Carter (capt), Kas Lealamanua. Res: Jonah Lomu, Elvis Seveali'i, James King, Thomas Waldrom, Hemi Pou, Luke Mahoney, Tim Fairbrother.

Canterbury: Ben Blair, Joe Maddock, Nathan Mauger, Alisi Tupuailei, Daniel Carter, Charlie Hore, Ben Hurst (capt), Sam Broomhall, Johnny Leo'o, Daniel Turner, Matt Dalzell, Trevor Brown, Campbell Johnstone, Laurence Corlett, Chris King. Res: Scott Hamilton, Joe Naufahu, Corey Tamou, Andrew Morgan, Rhys Williams, Dave Hewett, Ti'i Paulo.

- NZPA