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Counties and Waikato prepare to kick-off seasons

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Counties Coach Milton Haig and his assistant Tana Umaga, who only recently concluded his Chiefs duties, will hope for a strong start in front of their home support for the first time this season.

But sevens stars Tim Mikkelson (fullback), Frank Halai (right wing) and Declan O'Donnell (centre) add a fair amount of attacking menace to Waikato, with the fourth Sevens international Rory Grice (number eight) on an extended bench.

Waikato coach Chris Gibbes told the Waikato Times the Sevens players added to a group that was already beginning to click.

"Their experience playing on the world circuit will be invaluable," said Gibbes.

"But where we're at, and what they've come back from, are completely different."

"We've got New Zealand Sevens players, guys who have played for the Chiefs, wider training group players and club players and they've all come together fairly well."

At this stage it will be the Steelers only pre-season match.

Waikato will play a second pre-season match against Auckland in Pakuranga on Saturday July 2, followed by a midweek game against Taranaki at Te Awamutu on Wednesday July 6.

Some ITM Cup sides are looking at compressing their pre-season schedules to replicate the condensed nature of this year's competition, altered due to the Rugby World Cup.

Former Chiefs lock Toby Lynn will lead Waikato, but Gibbes warned that the Steelers were always hard to play.

"It's always tough to play up there," he said.

"They are very physical at the breakdown, have a lot of players who love to run with the ball and are always keen to put the ball through the hands."

22 June, Growers Stadium 6.30pm kick off
Gates open at 6.00pm $10 Adults, Kids U15 FREE Grandstand only


Counties: 1. Jeremiah Fatialofa, 2. Mark Price, 3. Pa Thompson, 4. Ronald Raaymakers, 5. Chris McLaren, 6. Adam Cathcart, 7. Jeremy Corliss, 8. Viliami Fihaki, 9. David Bason, 10. James Semple, 11. Uwa Tawalo, 12. Josh Levi, 13. Bundi Ahkee, 14. Ritchie Ah Chong, 15. Ahsee Tuala, Replacements: 16. Suli Taufalele, 17. Maka Tatafu, 18. Sikeli Nabou, 19. Jamie Gilbert Clarke, 20. August Pulu, 21. Tyrone Lefau, 22. Rey Lee-Lo, 23. Uini Atonio

Waikato: Tim Mikkelson, Frank Halai, Declan O'Donnell, Rena Schuster, Navi Sikivou, Sam Christie, Malcolm Barnes, Alex Bradley, Zak Hohneck, Jono Armstrong, Chris Middleton, Toby Lynn (c), Latu Talakai, Marcel Cummings-Toone, Ted Tauroa. Res: Simon Kay, Fraser Armstrong, Richard Johnston, Paul Sweeney, Josh Tyrell, Rory Grice, Troy Lobendahn, Kane Adams, Trent Renata.