The Steelers will kick off the first of their three games in nine days tonight against Championship leaders Hawke's Bay, and coach Tana Umaga has made nine changes to the starting line-up.

Sean Bagshaw and Michael Lea come into the starting front-row and Fijian-born Sikeli Nabou and Viliame Rarasea will take over the locking duties. Onosa'i Auva'a and Maama Vaipulu will start in the loose forwards.

Johnny Fa'auli will come in at second five and wing Frank Halai will get his first taste of ITM Cup returning from injury, with Toni Pulu moving to fullback.

Gafatasi Su'a, Pauliasi Manu, Dan Hyatt and Cardiff Vaega all move into the reserves.


"Hawke's Bay are a team in good form. They are playing with confidence and have some quality players coming back, so we have just got to very mindful of that. We need to focus on what we are trying to achieve. We have some players having their first start this week and we trust those guys to be able to deliver for us," said Umaga.

Bagshaw will mark returning All Black Ben Franks, who makes his first Hawke's Bay appearance since 2013, while Israel Dagg, fresh from a hat-trick against Otago, will have one last chance to stake a RWC claim. The magpies have no less than 11 Super Rugby players in their starting XV. It is almost 12 months to the day since their last visit to Pukekohe, a fruitful one, as they annexed the Ranfurly Shield.

The curtainraiser will feature Counties Manukau Development v North Harbour Development which kicks off at 5.15pm. Gates open at 4.30pm.

Counties Manukau: Toni Pulu, Frank Halai, Sam Vaka, Johnny Fa'auli, Sione Fifita, Piers Francis, Richard Judd, Maama Vaipulu, Onosa'i Auva'a, Jimmy Tupou (c), Viliame Rarasea, Sikeli Nabou, Jarrod Firth, Michael Lea, Sean Bagshaw; Reserves: Gafatasi Su'a, Pauliasi Manu, Sam Aiono, Dan Hyatt, Sam Henwood, Kane Hancy, Nathan de Thierry, Cardiff Vaega