The Counties Manukau PIC Steelers are chasing a Mitre 10 Cup win against neighbours Auckland in a crucial local derby at Navigation Homes Stadium in Pukekohe on Saturday night.
The Daryl Suasua-coached PIC Steelers have enjoyed long periods of dominance against all opposition this season but haven’t quite managed to finish games on the right side of the scoreboard four out of five occasions.
The PIC Steelers are currently only four points outside a top four place in a logjam mid-way through the round robin. The defending champion Auckland outfit finding themselves sitting in a share of fourth spot – three points clear of the home side.
PIC Steelers players and fans alike always place great significance on playing against their rivals from the other end of the southern motorway and tomorrow night’s contest will be no different.
“We love playing against Auckland,” Suasua said. “They represent a major challenge and we know we will need to be at our best to beat them.
“But that is what rugby is all about – raising to a challenge.
“We weren’t at our best last week against Tasman and we want to respond for our fans, especially on such a big occasion this weekend.”
Skipper Sam Henwood has been ruled out of the match with a back complaint – one of a number of first choice players that are unavailable for coach Suasua. Orbyn Leger moves in a spot to first-five to replace the injured Riley Hohepa and he will captain the side in Henwood’s absence.
Bombay halfback Liam Daniela will make his first start of the season replacing Jonathan Taumateine in the run-on 15 while experienced midfield back Cardiff Vaega gets the start at second-five.
Irish prop Conan O’Donnell returns to the starting side as do lock Viliame Rarasea and flanker Malgene Ilaua.
The Steelers line-up is: 15. Andrew Kellaway, 14. Kirisi Kuridrani, 13. Nikolai Foliaki, 12. Cardiff Vaega, 11, Kalione Hala, 10. Orbyn Leger ©, 9. Liam Daniela, 8. Dan Hyatt, 7. Malgene Ilaua, 6. Samuel Slade, 5. Daymon Leaseasu, 4. Viliame Rarasea, 3. Tim Metcher, 2. Joseph Royal, 1. Conan O’Donnell. Reserves: 16. Donald Maka, 17. Sean Bagshaw, 18. Suetena Asomua, 19. Sikeli Nabou, 20. Savelio Ropati, 21. Siaosi Nginingini, 22. Mickey Woolliams, 23. Josh Gray.
Players not considered with injury: Matiaha Martin (arm, season), Sam Furniss (neck, season), Luteru Laulala (leg, season), Tevita Nabura (leg, season); Etene Nanai-Seturo (knee), Riley Hohepa (shoulder), Nathaniel Apa (ankle), Sam Henwood (back), Liam Fitzsimons (concussion).
Curtain Raiser: Counties Manukau Under 85's v Waikato, Kick off 5:05pm.
Gates open: 4:30pm