ITM Cup Premiership
Counties Manukau v Manawatu
ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe
Jordan Taufua can only make the bench in something of a surprise in the naming of the Counties Manukau squad to face Manawatu tomorrow in Pukekohe.
The Crusaders loose forward has enjoyed a fine season for his franchise, the World XV and the NZ Barbarians, but Steelers coach Tana Umaga has opted to use him off the pine to inject some energy for the pack.
No less than eight players are making their full debuts for the Steelers, though that includes experienced first-class players such as five-eighths Piers Francis and Cardiff Vaega and former Auckland hooker Gafatasi Sua.
Reserve kicker Nathan de Thierry was in prolific pointscoring form for Pukekohe this season, while centre Johnny Fa'auli, a 2013 NZ Schools rep, is back home after a stint in Canterbury.
Wing Toni Pulu, who recently re-signed with the Chiefs, will look to shut down Nathan Tudreu, who led all Turbos tryscorers in 2014 with five.
"We have a young group and with that comes excitement and enthusiasm, so we are looking forward to Sunday," said Umaga.
"It is a big game for both teams and we want to make a good impression, especially in front of our home crowd, and start our season well. It is such a short tournament, so you can't afford to slowly."
Manawatu won the second-tier Championship division in 2014 and will be primed to make an early impression in the Premiership.
For Manawatu, captain Callum Gibbins suits up for his 50th game for the union, while former Auckland and Otago halfback Toby Morland will come off the bench. Otere Black will run the cutter with Super Rugby reps Hamish Northcott and Jason Emery outside him.
The Steelers have not beaten the Turbos since 2012, and last season the latter prevailed 26-10 in Palmerston North. The home team will be buoyed by a victory over Canterbury in last Friday's final pre-season hitout.
The 12.15pm curtainraiser features perennial Counties Manukau schools heavyweights Wesley College and Manurewa High School doing battle in the First XV final.
Steelers squad: Jared Page, Toni Pulu, Sam Vaka, Cardiff Vaega, Sione Fifita, Piers Francis, Richard Judd, Maama Vaipulu, Sam Henwood, Jimmy Tupou (c), Viliame Rarasea, Mike Lawrenson, Jarrod Firth, Gafatasi Sua, Pauliasi Manu; Reserves: Michael Lea, Sean Bagshaw, John Tu'ungafasi, Jordan Taufua, Kane Hancy, Nathan de Thierry, Johnny Fa'auli