Preview: Wellington v North Harbour

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Saturday, October 11, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday 11 October, 2.35pm at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Played: 27, 1986-2013
North Harbour wins: 11 | Wellington wins: 14

Squad update: The injury woes for Chris Boyd’s troops continues, with the stacked casualty ward again forcing a reshuffle of personnel in the Lions’ starting line-up.

James O’Reilly comes in for Motu Matu’u at hooker, with Oriental Rongotai’s Hunter Prescott coming onto the bench. Afa Fa’atau also replaces Ambrose Curtis on the wing, while Jason Woodward drops to the back, and Matt Proctor to the wing.

Meanwhile North Harbour Head coach Steve Jackson has altered his starting squad. After missing out on the match-day 22 against Northland last week Mike Farmer is back starting at lock pairing up with Hayden Triggs who will captain Harbour for the second straight game.

Jordan Manihera returns from injury, replacing Brandon Nansen who suffered a broken leg in Whangarei while Manihera will partner Zak Judge in the loose forwards coming in at the expense of Josh Blucher.

Form: Wellington will be seeking their first win of the season to give their supporters some cheer, as minimal as it may be, before a heartbreaking campaign draws to a close.

Nine losses from nine matches have come from a monstrous injury toll and a massive loss of confidence, but they may gain some heart from the fact that they haven’t lost to Harbour since 2006.

The tourists have won only three matches this regular season, but their sensational victories against Canterbury and Hawke’s Bay – alas not for the Shield – showing the pedigree that lurked beneath the veneer.

Their loss to the Taniwha last round won’t be of major concern as two wins in their last three give the visitor’s form, which Wellington do not have.

Last match: Wellington 35 North Harbour 27, 28.08.13 in Wellington (ITMC)

Last North Harbour win: North Harbour 31 Wellington 16, 20.08.06 in Albany (ANZC)

Biggest North Harbour score: 43 (43-17), 02.10.94 in Takapuna (NPC)

Biggest Wellington score: 52 (52-23), 10.10.10 in Wellington (NPC)

Biggest differential: Wellington by 33 (39-6), 18.09.93 in Wellington (NPC)

Key players: The silver lining for Wellington in 2014 has been the exposure of player after player to the ITM Cup, which has been due to one of the capital’s worst ever injury tolls.

Brad Shields will add mobility to the ruck from the second row, but Victor Vito and Willie Ripia will want to impose their touches from eight and ten respectively.

Harbour’s pack will want to get on top of a Wellington frontal unit that might not have celebrated with a winning orange juice, but captain Hayden Triggs will know his backline will do the damage.

Silverdale’s Matt McGahan has been improving with every game at standoff, while Tevita Li, Pita Ahki, Matt Vaega and Robbie Robinson have been cutting up teams over the last month.