The Tasman Mako may have had their stocks boosted by the inclusion of two All Blacks - but they will need all the help they can get if they are to make it a hat-trick of wins to open the season.
By PETER JONES [Marlborough App]
On Saturday evening they take on North Harbour, one of three teams sharing second place, alongside Tasman and Taranaki, on the Mitre 10 Cup premiership table.
The lads from Albany have made a flying start to their campaign, picking up one-point wins against Northland and Waikato to underline the threat they pose to the Mako, a side they have a very good record against.
Consequently, Tasman have named their strongest side of the season for the third round clash, to be played at QBE Stadium.
Mako halfback Finlay Christie in action for the Mako last year. Photo: Shuttersport.
Tim Perry and Shannon Frizell have both been released from the All Blacks squad to participate, Perry coming in for Ryan Coxon at loosehead in the starting XV and Frizell replacing the injured Isaiah Miller in the previously-unlucky No 8 jersey. Miller, who picked up a serious knee ligament injury against Southland, made his debut on Sunday after replacing Vernon Fredericks who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury the previous week against Canterbury.
The rest of the pack remains the same, but there are a couple of key changes in the inside backs.
Finlay Christie has fully recovered from a cheekbone injury and returns to the halfback spot, while Mitch Hunt reclaims the 10 jersey from Tim O’Malley. Tima Faingaanuku, who was a late addition to the starting side for the Southland clash, replacing Jamie Spowart, keeps his place on the right wing.
Isaac Salmon, a standout prop last season, will make his first appearance off the bench, while Jack Grooby gets the nod ahead of Ben Finau as the reserve halfback.
Head coach Leon MacDonald is delighted to welcome Perry and Frizell back into the fold. "They always add a lot when they come back into the group and the team will definitely be excited about having a couple of All Blacks among them.
"They’ve got a bit of homework to do in a short space of time to work out our new calls but they won’t take long to get up to speed. They are both proud Tasman men so they’ll definitely prepare well for a good performance.”
The return of Christie is also timely, suggested MacDonald. "He will bring some more experience, he’s had two years of Super Rugby now. His game’s grown a lot … he can play at speed for long periods and he brings a lot of energy to our game. He’s a very popular member of the team and they are excited he’s ready to play again.”
North Harbour are a dangerous proposition, as previous Mako sides have discovered to their cost, with strike weapons aplenty and able to string together more consistent performances in recent times.
"They are a top four team, well-coached with a world-class back three, a good 9 and 10 that drive the team around the park and a physical forward pack with a solid set piece,” pointed out MacDonald.
"Last year they conceded the least amount of tries in the competition, so we will have to be at our very best to beat them.”
While they picked up maximum points against Southland, the Mako were not at their sharpest. They created a multitude of chances to score but often let themselves down with poor finishing.
Against Harbour their opportunities will be limited, placing a bigger onus on accuracy and execution this week.
The Mako generally travel well, winning three games away from home last season, but will need to reproduce the intensity they produced against Canterbury in week one to get the job done on Saturday evening.
Teams for Saturday’s game, which kicks off at 7.35pm.
Mako team: 1 Tim Perry, 2 Andrew Makalio, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 5 Quinten Strange, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 7 Jed Brown, 8 Shannon Frizell; 9 Finlay Christie, 10 Mitchell Hunt, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 12 David Havili (captain), 13 Levi Aumua, 14 Tima Faingaanuku, 15 Will Jordan.
Reserves: Ray Niuia, Wyatt Crockett, Isaac Salmon, Mike Curry, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Jack Grooby, Tim O’Malley, Alex Nankivell.