Defending champions Thames Valley have named their team for the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship's big Meads Cup semifinal against Steeform Wanganui in Paeroa tomorrow afternoon.
It is the first time the Waikato country union have hosted a Heartland playoff match, as last year they claimed the Meads Cup from fourth place - upsetting Wanganui and South Canterbury in consecutive weekends in Whanganui and Timaru.
The roles are reversed this year with Thames Valley the top qualifier while Wanganui finished fourth, now looking to emulate their 2017 season where they also won the Meads Cup from fourth place – upsetting South Canterbury and Horowhenua Kapiti in consecutive away games.
Notable is selection of 2018's Heartland Player of the Year Brett Ranga at lock.
Normally blindside flanker, Ranga played the opening game of the season for Thames Valley before joining the New Zealand Heartland XV as captain to face Manu Samoa at Eden Park on August 30.
Ranga would not return to the team until last weekend in the win over neighbours King Country, taking his flanker spot back from the season's breakout player in Laulea Mau, who scored off the bench against Wanganui on August 30 and then dotted down four more times after he came into the starting lineup.
Ranga's shift to lock means Mau regains the No 6 jumper tomorrow.
The big loss to the team will be Ranga's fellow NZ Heartland XV representative in winger-centre Harry Lafituanai, who scored a hat trick against King Country as part of his seven tries this season, tied for second on the list behind Wanganui's Vereniki Tikoisolomone with 10.
The most experienced players in the starting lineup are Ranga, lock Connor McVerry, prop Kieran Ramage, and halfback Ben Bonnar, while Jason Laurich takes over the centre role for Lafituanai.
In the Wanganui lineup, there is just some slight alterations as reserve backs Tyler Rogers-Holden and Ethan Robinson have swapped jersey numbers, while Raymond Salu is confirmed to have retained the reserve prop spot after being bracketed with Wiremu Cottrell.
Kickoff is 2pm at Paeroa Domain.
The teams are
1. Kieran Ramage; 2. Glen McIntyre; 3. Sitiveni Tupou; 4. Brett Ranga; 5. Connor McVerry; 6. Laulea Mau; 7. Fred Kei; 8. Matt Axtens; 9. Ben Bonnar; 10. Reece Broughton; 11. Kieran Lee; 12. Sam McCahon; 13. Jason Laurich; 14. Logan Mitchell; 15. Regan Crosland.
Reserves: 16. Lance McIntyre; 17. Sergio De La Fuenta; 18. Keegan Lewis; 19. Ryan Leopold; 20. Cole Berridge; 21. Matty Fisher; 22. Lance Easton.
1. Kamipeli Latu; 2. Roman Tutauha; 3. Gabriel Hakaraia; 4. Sam Madams; 5. Josh Lane; 6. Campbell Hart (c); 7. Angus Middleton; 8. Ezra Meleisa; 9. Lindsay Horrocks; 10. Dane Whale; 11. Shai Wiperi; 12. Penijamini Nabainivalu; 13. Amos Pogia; 14. Vereniki Tikoisolomone; 15. Nick Harding.
Reserves – Forwards: 16. Dylan Gallien; 17. Raymond Salu; 18. Samu Kubunavanua; 19. Jamie Hughes; Backs: 20. Ethan Robinson; 21. Tyler Rogers-Holden; 22. Troy Brown.