Preview: Waikato v Tasman

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Friday, August 14, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: Waikato finished sixth overall last season and will be looking for a strong 2015 to remind their supporters of their proud history and class, a 55-35 final preseason win against Northland showed that the team has some firepower at their disposal.

The last time Waikato held a trophy was in 2013, losing the Ranfurly Shield to Otago that season, and despite reaching the ITM Cup Final in 2011, they haven’t challenged for a finals position for the last three campaigns.

Tasman meanwhile were ambushed by Wellington in their final warm up game, a disappointing result for the union considering their appearance in the Premiership decider last year – clearly goals are high, many locals believe that the Makos have the talent to go all the way.

Tasman haven’t lost to Waikato since 2012 so will be keen to keep that record intact, while the Makos will be gunning to win their season opener for the fourth straight season, the last time they lost an opening campaign match was in 2011.

Friday 14 August, 6.05pm at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Played: 8, 2007-2014
Waikato wins: 4 | Tasman wins: 4

Last match: Tasman 23 Waikato 16, 05.09.14 in Nelson (ITMC)
Last Waikato win: Waikato 20 Tasman 19, 27.09.12 in Hamilton (ITMC)
Biggest Waikato score: 35 (35-6), 29.07.11 in Hamilton (ITMC)
Biggest Tasman score: 64 (64-28), 02.10.13 in Nelson (ITMC)
Biggest differential: Tasman by 36 (64-28), 02.10.13 in Nelson (ITMC)

Squad update: The home team features four players in the starting fifteen who will make their Waikato debuts with another three potential debutants named on the bench.

Front rowers Atu Moli and Michael Mayhew, loose forward Murray Iti and fullback Shaun Stevenson are the uncapped players in the run on side.

Prop Tau Koloamatangi, lock/loose forward James Tucker and first five Bryn Gatland are the new faces on the bench.

For Tasman two debutants will fill the vacant wing positions with Trael Joass and Monty Ioane both named in the Makos' starting lineup.

Although primarily a midfielder, Joass earns his selection on the back of an outstanding club season in which his powerful running was a key factor in Wanderers claiming both the Tasman Trophy and Nelson Bays premier championship titles.

It's been a heady rise for the 22-year-old, particularly as he'll be up against former New Zealand under-20s and New Zealand sevens representative Joe Webber.

Twenty-year-old Ioane has come off a club season with French Top 14 team Stade Francais.

Joass and Ioane are the only newcomers to the Makos' starting lineup, although four players will also potentially make their Tasman debuts off the bench.

South African-born Queensland Reds Super 15 lock Marco Kotze provides backup for the established combination of Joe Wheeler and Alex Ainley, while Marlborough club prop Jake Stafford-Wood provides added front row cover.

Waikato: 15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Declan O'Donnell, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Jordan Payne, 11 Joe Webber, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Josh Tyrell, 7 Murray Iti, 6 Whetu Douglas, 5 Jacob Skeen, 4 David Morgan, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Michael Mayhew, 1 Atu Moli.

Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Lone Uhila, 18 Tau Koloamatangi, 19 James Tucker, 20 Zane Kapeli, 21 Harrison Levien, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Johnathan Malo.

Tasman: 15 Robbie Malneek, 14 Trael Joass, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 David Havili, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Bill Guyton, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Shane Christie, 6 Pete Samu, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Tim Perry.

Replacements: 16 Jesse MacDonald, 17 Siua Halanukonuka, 18 Jake Stafford-Wood, 19 Marco Kotze, 20 Jeff Lepa, 21 Jimmy Cowan, 22 Trent Renata, 23 Alex Nankivell.

Key players: Waikato have rolled out what looks to be a full strength line up for this one, newly announced co-captains Brad Weber and Whetu Douglas take their place at halfback and blindside flanker respectively.

Ben Tameifuna and Junior World Cup winning captain Atu Moli take their place in what is a formidable front row, while Jacob Skeen and David Morgan are in the second row to round out a strong looking tight five.

The back division is where much of the Mooloo’s potency is, Damian McKenzie will run the cutter from first five-eighth, while Joe Webber, Anton Lienert-Brown and Declan O’Donnell ensure that the hosts have a significant amount of sparkle.

The major talking point for Tasman is the lack of their first choice wingmen for last season, James Lowe and Bryce Heem.

Lowe, who scored nine tries last year to set a new record for the Makos in domestic competition, will miss the entire campaign with injury while Heem has linked up with Auckland.

The backline doesn’t look inept without such strike power, David Havili and Kieron Fonotia are a handy midfield combination while Joass and Ioane have impressed on the outside flanks and earned their places on the right and left wings respectively.

Tasman’s pack looks as strong as ever, the feats of Shane Christie and others took the ITM Cup by storm last season – and expect the energy of Joe Wheeler, Ross Geldenhuys and Pete Samu to ensure that the tourists are well placed to start their campaign with a triumph.