Preview: Manawatu v Southland

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Saturday, October 18, 2014    Getty Images

Saturday 18 October, 2.05pm at FMG Stadium, Palmerston North
Played: 42, 1905-2014
Manawatu wins: 22 | Southland wins: 17 | Draws: 3

Squad update: The Turbos have made just one change in the pack, with Keepa Mewett replacing Michael Fitzgerald in the second row, but otherwise the rest of the impressive forwards that have compiled four straight victories remain.

Kayne Hammington replaces Jamie Booth at halfback, while notably Otere Black and Jade Te Rure remain as the squad’s playmakers, resulting in All Blacks first five-eighth Aaron Cruden being unrequired.

Southland have named an unchanged side from the team that came so very close to taking the Ranfurly Shield, but had to watch in despondency as Magpies first five-eighth Ihaia West slotted over a late drop.

Form: Manawatu have won four straight to enter the final’s series in some form, with their rollicking 38-25 win over Otago securing their place as the best Championship team during the regular season.

Their 8-2 record is the best of any team across any division, so they will back themselves in front of their bucket heads to progress to the final.

Southland, who qualified fourth overall one competition point ahead of the fast finishing North Harbour, were touched up to the tune of a 20-41 loss earlier this year when they faced the Turbos.

With the Stags round seven 28-26 victory over Canterbury still fresh, the Southlanders will have some confidence after they came within a whisker of gaining the Log o’Wood.

Last match: Manawatu 41 Southland 20, 20.09.14 in Palmerston North (ITMC)

Last Southland win: Southland 17 Manawatu 11, 12.10.12 in Invercargill (ITMC)

Biggest Southland score: 61 (61–6), 10.09.86 in Palmerston North (NPC)

Biggest Manawatu score: 42 (42–30), 27.08.94 in Palmerston North (NPC)

Biggest differential: Manawatu by 55 (61–6), 10.09.86 in Palmerston North (NPC)

Key players: Black has been an influential figure for Manawatu, with a potent backline around him, including the Tudreu wing combination of Nathan (left) and Newton (right).

Callum Gibbins has been a figurehead wearing the skipper’s armband at openside flanker, while Nick Crosswell and Heiden Bedwell-Curtis have played their part forming a potent back row.

Southland will look to a pack that is doing the Stags traditions proud, with Jamie Mackintosh, Josh Bekhuis, John Hardie and Elliot Dixon prominent throughout the regular season campaign.

Lima Sopoaga has been a commanding individual wearing the ten jersey, while Willis Halaholo and Mark Jackman have been key attacking weapons out wide.