Counties Manukau are counting on their support play, to the fore in 2016, as they prepare for a realistic tilt at a fifth national provincial sevens title this weekend in Rotorua.

The defending Cup champions will not have a 'defensive' mindset in 2017, however.

Barely half the 2016 squad are returning, though the good news is that All Blacks Sevens reps Sherwin Stowers and Sione Molia have been cleared to play, though DJ Forbes will again bypass the tournament to be fresh for the Wellington World Series event at the end of the month.

Coach Reon Graham, who takes the reins from Darryl Suasua, has again highlighted that support play, as opposed to outright pace, that served them so well in 2016, when playmaker August Pulu - now with the Blues - won the Joe Tauiwi Memorial Trophy for his influential play.


"Sione (Molia) and Sherwin probably have the most pace, but the rest are pretty even. It's going to take us 3-4 passes to score, rather than letting one guy do it," says Graham.

Form is never a reliable guide in sevens. Counties Manukau lost the Cup semifinal to Waikato at last weekend's Mt Maunganui tournament, and were fifth seeds after last month's northern region qualifiers. Graham is not too concerned by those results, knowing that placing in the top two of a pool that includes Manawatu, Northland and South Canterbury is the sole priority for day one.

"We're happy with our build-up and the guys are all in good shape. Anything can happen on day two. You only have to look at North Harbour. They could hardly win a game before the (2016) tournament and they made the final, beating some good sides," he says.

Vuga Tagicakibau, the 2016 co-captain, will skipper the side, and will act as playmaker, as will New Zealand Under 20s halfback Jonathan Taumateine, who is released from the Chiefs' wider training group.

The new guidelines for referees around high tackles, the topic du jour, were in force last weekend and will be in place in Rotorua, but Graham has mixed views on their implementation.

"They were in place at the Mount, but you wouldn't have known it. There were accidental high shots all over the place, but the refs either didn't see it or weren't used to it. I'm hoping there's not going to be an over-reaction (this weekend)," says Graham.