Key Points:

Mt Smart Stadium, 2.35pm tomorrow

It doesn't get any easier for Counties-Manukau.

After travelling to Eden Park to take on an All Black-laden Auckland side in last week's campaign opener, they host another traditional powerhouse union, Canterbury.


The draw has been particularly cruel to Counties, who also host Waikato and Wellington within the first six rounds.

"I'm glad someone has bloody noticed that," Counties coach Kevin Putt said.

"I can either be really negative or quite positive about it. The good news is that often teams take a few weeks to get into their form and this gives us an opportunity to test ourselves against the best.

"The negatives however probably outweigh that. With a team with our depth, if we pick up injuries early on it makes it bloody hard to win your target games later in the year."

The Steelers are already down a first-choice prop, with Sekope Kepu having broken his collarbone in the 39-5 defeat by Auckland. He is replaced by Poaloi Taul. Nigel Staniforth, the less celebrated younger brother of Wallaby Scott Staniforth, replaces Tanner Vili at fullback in the only change from last week's line-up.

Canterbury have named World Cup-bound halfback Andrew Ellis to start in place of Kevin Senio. In the pack, Campbell Johnstone has replaced the injured Greg Somerville and Isaac Ross will start at lock ahead of Michael Paterson.

His side's defence may have been over-run by Auckland in the second half last week, but Putt was more concerned about their failure to capitalise on their scoring opportunities.

"Last year we scored a heck of a lot of points. We adopted the attitude that if a team was going to beat us they would have to score 25 points. Auckland scored that many and fair play to them but we were disappointed we didn't put a lot of points on the board."