It is just over 10 years since North Harbour went to Christchurch with an attacking mindset and won the Ranfurly Shield for the first, and still only, time in the union's history.

Allan Pollock's side, skippered by Rua Tipoki, edged Canterbury 21-17. Second five Tipoki ran 80 metres for an intercept try and wing Viliame Waqaseduadua embarrassed Scott Hamilton with a superb sidestep.

That North Harbour team were not half bad, and included no less than five players who were, or were to become, All Blacks, namely Rudi Wulf, Anthony Tuitavake, Luke McAlister, Anthony Boric and Tony Woodcock. That season was also the last time the union played any playoffs football, bowing out in the Air New Zealand Cup quarter-finals.

Since that short but heady 2006-07 Shield era, the Harbour fans have known only lean times. From 2011-13, Harbour won just four games in three seasons. But in 2016, they have already won four and a total of 10 since Steve Jackson took over in 2014.


Victory tomorrow night in Christchurch, against the Premiership leaders no less, would not only see the Shield return to Albany, it would also seal a Championship semifinal berth, which was already looking good until the Manawatu Turbos put 50 on Wellington last night. It would also be the sixth time this season a Championship side has scalped a Premiership team, and Harbour already has one of those scalps - Counties Manukau - from the competition opener.

Harbour coach Steve Jackson knows the history and knows his side cannot button off for 15-20 minutes, as happened in the Shield defeat to Waikato several weeks ago. That was a costly lapse, as Harbour played enough good rugby to put some heat on the Mooloos then.

This is therefore their second crack at the Log o' Wood this season, though still short of the three unsuccessful challenges from the 1996 side.

In a blow to the scrum, in particular, loosehead prop Nic Mayhew is out after suffering an injury in last weekend's 44-34 win over Bay of Plenty. Hooker James Parson remains sidelined with concussion symptoms. Adrian Smith, who has filled in at hooker, shifts to the No 1 jersey, and Jody Allen is recalled from Poverty Bay, where he was on loan in the Heartland Championship.

"The guys are really excited and have trained well all week. Canterbury are the form team of the competition, so it'll be a massive challenge, but it's about our players turning up with the right mindset," says Jackson.

Harbour does have the best defensive record in the Mitre 10 Cup, so they will not be happy with the 34 points, and five tries, leaked against the Steamers, but Jackson says there were mitigating factors, such as the fact some players were out of position in the final quarter of that clash.

"We pride ourselves on our defence. I think you'll see a different defensive effort (tomorrow night)," says Jackson.

Leading the way will be his unheralded loose trio of No 8 Murphy Taramai, who has not missed a minute in 2016, and flankers Connor Collett and Glen Preston, both of whom powered through their work last weekend.

"We select guys with great character and work-rate. These guys have got bigger engines than most. They play for 80 minutes and that's what you want with a forward pack, a bunch of guys that will do the donkey work. In our backline, we've got guys who can finish from anywhere," Jackson says.

The semifinal equation is simple for the fourth-placed Harbour, as far as he is concerned.

"We know we just have to keep winning."

Lose tomorrow night, and Harbour will be rooting for the Turbos to knock out Bay of Plenty on Sunday before Harbour turn their attention to a Wednesday night home clash with Tasman.

This is the start of Harbour's 'storm week', with three games in nine days. It was their undoing in 2014, but the 2016 edition looks more resilient.

Canterbury, who have made five changes from the side that beat Taranaki last Sunday, including handing a possible debut to New Zealand Under 20s lock Hamish Dalzell, will honour past Shield heroes prior to kickoff. They will be clear favourites, but coach Scott Robertson will not have forgotten what happened in 2014, when a high-flying and seemingly invincible Canterbury rocked up to Albany on an unpromising September Wednesday night and were reversed 29-24 in one of the biggest upsets in NPC history. Even last season, Harbour were very competitive before falling 17-10. So complacency should not be an issue for Canterbury, who can lock the Shield away for the summer if they do the job.

"I don't think there'd be many around who would expect us to win. People have written us off and that's probably how we like it," says Jackson.

*Live commentary of this match is on Radio Sport and iHeart Radio from 7.35pm on Friday.

Canterbury: Johnny McNicholl, Nathan Earle, Jack Goodhue, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Ere Enari, Luke Whitelock (c), Jed Brown, Tom Sanders, Dave McDuling, Scott Barrett, Oli Jager, Ben Funnell, Daniel Lienert-Brown; Reserves: Nathan Vella, Alex Hodgman, Siate Tokolahi, Hamish Dalzell, Reed Prinsep, Jack Stratton, Inga Finau, Ben Volavola

North Harbour: Matt McGahan, Matt Duffie, Matt Vaega, Michael Little, Tevita Li, Bryn Gatland, Chris Smylie, Murphy Taramai, Connor Collett, Glen Preston, Chris Vui (c), Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Sione Mafileo, Vyron Smith, Adrian Smith; Reserves: Kalem Chan-Boon, Hani Fatai, Jody Allen, Josh Tyrell, Kane Jacobson, Bryn Hall, Daniel Hilton-Jones, Afa Fa'atau