By Imran Ali
Veteran Sam Nock will once again lead Northland in their NPC clash against Otago tonight
as they look for their second win on the trot.
The match, initially pencilled in for Semenoff Stadium in Whangārei, will be played at the Rotorua International Stadium after Covid restrictions forced New Zealand Rugby to rejig the rest of the NPC fixtures.
After losing their first four matches, Northland bounced back with a win against highly-fancied Waikato at home and are looking for a repeat performance that not only warms the hearts of fans but shows what they are capable of when on song.
The 11 teams outside of the Auckland region will play the remaining four weeks of round-robin matches, with Premiership and Championship semi-finals and finals scheduled for the second and third weekend of November.
There will be no promotion and relegation between the Premiership and Championship this year.
Nock captained the side in their loss against Manawatu and will form the halves pair tonight
with Dan Hawkins.
Tevita Faukafa will play No 8 in place of an injured Rob Rush.
Experienced Rene Ranger and Tamati Tua will once again line up in midfield, with Rivez Reihana at fullback.
It will be Ranger's 101 games for the Taniwha.
Wingers Jone Macilai and Pisi Leilua complete the backline for Northland.
In the forwards, centurion Matt Wright will lead the scrum instead of regular skipper Jodan Olsen, who did not travel with the team.
Props Justin Davies and man-mountain Kaliopasi Uluilakepa will add grunt in the front row.
Bruising Kara Pryor and Sam McNamara are the twin flankers, while Josh Goodhue and Sam Caird will be the prime lineout jumpers.
The match kicks off at 7.05pm.
The first two weeks of the NPC were played in full before Covid-19 alert level restrictions saw the competition put on hold.
With Auckland-based teams unable to rejoin the competition, NZ Rugby has made changes to ensure the integrity of the competition is maintained.
In addition to the scheduled round-robin matches there will be a non-competition match played each week featuring teams that would have otherwise played Auckland region teams, to ensure teams don't go two weeks without a game.
Any additional non-competition matches hosted by the Ranfurly Shield holders will not be considered mandatory challenges.