Coach Tai Lavea has made three changes to his starting side as the Counties Manukau PIC Steelers look for their first win of the Mitre 10 Cup season when they tackle Hawke’s Bay in Napier on Sunday.
The PIC Steelers are without two-time World Cup winner Kieran Read, who sits out this week forcing a reshuffle in the loose trio. Sam Slade, who got PIC Steelers Player of the Day in the loss to Tasman last week, moves to number eight to cover Read while the experienced Johnny Kawau comes into the starting side at blindside.
Mickey Woolliams moves to the starting XV and takes his spot at lock with Potu Leavasa shifting back to the bench.
Luteru Laulala will make his first start for the PIC Steelers since 2018 after being named at centre for the clash against the Magpies. Laulala, who missed all of the 2019 season after rupturing an ACL, got some late minutes against the Mako last week and replaces All Blacks Sevens star Sione Molia.
Backs Jason Robertson and Latiume Fosita will make their first appearances of the season off the bench.
All Blacks duo Nepo Laulala and Dalton Papalii will both start against Hawke’s Bay in what will likely be the pair’s final match before their international campaign begins.
“We had always planned to sit Kieran this week and we haven’t strayed from that despite how well he played last week,” Lavea said.
“Sam was excellent for us last week and Johnny has been there and done it for us plenty of times before so I am confident we will cope.
“Mickey would have started last week but he was still recovering from the gastro bug we had run through the camp. He is back to 100% now.
“Luteru gives us a lot of creativity at centre and he will be better for the run last week.
“We look forward to what Jason and Latiume can offer off the bench.
“We are back to a traditional 5-3 split of forwards and backs after having to run 6-2 last week due to injury.”
Napier has been a difficult place to visit for PIC Steelers teams of the past although they did famously lift the Ranfurly Shield at McLean Park in 2013.
On top of that the Magpies were surprisingly upset in week one by Southland and Lavea is expecting them to be more dangerous as a result.
“They will bounce back – we are under no illusions,” Lavea said. “I know their coaching staff quite well and they will be ready for us no doubt.
“It is going to be a tough one.”
The match begins at 2.05pm.
Counties Manukau PIC Steelers: 1. Ezekiel Lindenmuth, 2. Zuriel Togiatama, 3. Nepo Laulala, 4. Matiaha Martin, 5. Mickey Woolliams, 6. Johnny Kawau, 7. Dalton Papalii, 8. Sam Slade, 9. Jonathan Taumateine, 10. Baden Kerr, 11. Kalione Hala, 12. Orbyn Leger (capt), 13. Luteru Laulala, 14. Kirisi Kuridrania, 15. Etene Nanai-Seturo. Reserves: Shaun Muir, Clinton Malolua, Conan O’Donnell, Potu Leavasa, Viliama Taulani, Pele Cowley, Jason Robertson, Latiume Fosita.
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