Preview: North Harbour v Wellington

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Form: Harbour Head Coach Steve Jackson will be right to feel annoyed at the 11-20 reverse suffered to the Steamers last week after his team did plenty right throughout the match.

However, vital moments decide matches at any level, and the burning pace of Chase Tiatia was ultimately the difference between the sides.

His tries were alternate vintages.

His first came from a lapse of concentration from the Harbour forwards, the second in even more agonising circumstances, a score against the run of play as the home team looked as if they were pushing for the match winning score against the Bay.

Wellington meanwhile were full value for their 19-14 win over Premiership winners Taranaki, the Lions were fired up big time for the clash and their forwards and ability to break the advantage line was too much for the Amber and Blacks.

Interestingly the Lions opted against kicking the ball for the bulk of the contest, while Harbour found increasing success when they used tactical options to try and shift the Steamers pack around.

Yet one thing was clear, Wellington’s big ball carriers looked as if they had a point to prove and the home outfit will need to be on full alert to this ploy, while Harbour will want to maximise opportunities, they missed three kickable penalties against the Steamers which hamstrung their chances.

Thursday 20 August, 7.35pm at QBE Stadium, North Harbour
Played: 26, 1986-2014
North Harbour wins: 11 | Wellington wins: 15

Last match: Wellington 58 North Harbour 34, 11.10.14 in Wellington (ITMC)
Last North Harbour win: North Harbour 31 Wellington 16, 20.08.06 in Albany
Biggest North Harbour score: 43 (43-17), 02.10.94 in Takapuna (NPC)
Biggest Wellington score: 58 (58-34), 11.10.14 in Wellington (ITMC)
Biggest differential: Wellington by 33 (39-6), 18.09.93 in Wellington (NPC)

Squad update: Daniel Halangahu will start at first five after the veteran playmaker impressed in a cameo appearance off the bench in last Friday’s 20-11 loss to Bay of Plenty.

The form of Halangahu and the difference he made to the team was obvious when he came onto the field last week against the Steamers.

An injury in the midfield’s forced a change at second five and centre.

Pita Ahki is out with a hamstring strain, and with the strapping midfielder likely out until the teams match against the stags, Michael Little moves in one position to second five-eighth.

Matt Vaega comes into his preferred position at centre, while up front Adrian Smith gets a rare start at loosehead prop with Nic Mayhew also sidelined through injury.

The Wellington Lions are sticking with a similar line-up, with coach Earl Va’a making just three changes to the starting team which beat Taranaki in New Plymouth last weekend, with Jeremy Thrush coming in for Mark Reddish, and Cory Jane shifting to fullback.

The latter change has prompted a switch for the in-form Joe Hill, who moves to the right wing, with Wes Goosen coming onto the left wing.

Old Boys’ University prop Finbarr Kerr-Newell has also been called into the squad, and will make his Lions debut if utilised off the bench.

Key players: Harbour’s forwards will be frothing at the mouth for this one, they looked strong against the Steamers but ultimately the tenacity of the Bay of Plenty pack claimed a point’s decision.

James Parsons, Hayden Triggs and Jordan Manihera will be among the big men who will be keen to test themselves against Wellington’s forwards, the Lions pack is more formidable than one would usually expect to see in the Championship ranks.

Halangahu’s inclusion with add stability after Matt McGahan looked a little spooked in his first match of the season, and while Ahki is a loss, there looks to be more balance to the home side's midfield.

Furthermore wingers Tevita Li and Nafi Tuitavake will want to get their hands on the ball more than they did last weekend.

Wellington will need to be careful, they had clearly targeted the game against Taranaki, and with great respect to Harbour they do not present the same challenge to the Lions on paper, so the tourists will want to make sure the same steely focus is present.

Prop Reggie Goodes continued his fine 2015 campaign with another good showing, while the back row of Ardie Savea, Vaea Fifita and Brad Shield was immense, if they play a similar tune at QBE Stadium then the Harbour back row will be in for a torrid evening.

Cory Jane gets another chance to push for Rugby World Cup selection, but it was the touch of Jonny Bentley that impressed.

The first five-eighth looked to control the game and did so with aplomb, while Shaun Treeby and Matt Proctor add intelligence to the back division, the Lions strategy was on the money last round so head coach Earl Va’a will hope the squad continues to play their preferred style.