Is it the National Provincial Championship, No. Is it the Air New Zealand Cup, No. It’s now the ITM Cup ! Yes it has a new sponsor, but everything else is business as usual in New Zealand domestic rugby.
There is however added interest this year in that from next year the competition will be split into a first and second division. This means the finishing order of this year’s tournament will be crucial as the top seven teams qualify for the first division and the bottom seven will play in the second division.
So as we make our Superbru picks and place our bets on Marshalls World of Sport, keep in mind that there is a real battle for these top 7 log spots. In what has been described as a “competition within the competition”.
This year’s competition stretches games from Thursday to Sunday. So as we go to press this week Game 1 is under way and team sheets for Sunday fixtures are still being finalised. So I will have to put my head on the block when previewing some of the weekends outcomes.
Game 1 – Taranaki v Northland Prediction: Taranaki by 10-15 points
Taranaki is the real dark horse this year and has realistic hopes of a top seven finish. They should win this comfortably but it is forecasted to rain .
Taranaki: 1. Shane Cleaver, 2. Laurence Corlett, 3. Michael Bent, 4. James Broadhurst or Leon Power, 5. Craig Clarke (captain), 6. Jarrad Hoeata, 7. Chris Walker, 8. Ben Souness, 9. Tyson Keats, 10. Willie Ripia, 11. David Smith, 12. Jayden Hayward, 13. George Pisi, 14. Andre Taylor, 15. Kurt Baker.
Reserves: 16. Timo Tutavaha, 17. Carl Carmichael, 18. Kane Barrett, 19. Samuela Vunisa, 20. Brett Goodin, 21. Isaia Tuifua, 22. Beauden Barrett.
Northland: 1. Matt Wallis, 2. Mikaele Tuu’u, 3. Bronson Murray, 4. Pat O’Connor, 5. Mark Burman, 6. Dean Budd, 7.Sam Barker, 8. Cameron Eyre, 9. Luke Hamilton, 10. David Holwell, 11. Lachie Munro, 12. Aaron Bancroft, 13. Rene Ranger, 14. Simon Munro, 15. Jared Payne (captain).
Reserves: 16. Tim Dow, 17. Paea Fa’anunu, 18. Roy Griffin, 19. Cameron Goodhew, 20. Rhyan Caine, 21. Iwi Hauraki, 22. Bryce Heem
Game 2 Canterbury v Hawkes Bay Prediction: Canterbury by 5-10 points
Canterbury are without the services of Robbie Fruean, Nasi Manu, Andy Ellis, Adam Whitelock and Sonny Bill Williams. Hawkes Bay are without Michael Johnson’s and Anthony Perenise.
This promises to be a match of real interest and should give us a clear indication of how strong both teams are.
An important point to note is that Hawke’s Bay has not won in Christchurch since 1968.
Canterbury: 1. Wyatt Crockett, 2. Steve Fualau, 3. Peter Borlase, 4. Luke Romano, 5. Isaac Ross, 6. Matt Todd, 7. George Whitelock (captain), 8. Ash Parker, 9. Willi Heinz, 10. Colin Slade, 11. Tu Umaga-Marshall, 12. Stephen Brett, 13. Ryan Crotty, 14. Patrick Osborne, 15. Sean Maitland.
Reserves: 16. Paul Ngauamo, 17. Andrew Olorenshaw, 18. Rob Verbakel, 19. Brendn O’Connor, 20. Matt George, 21. Robbie Flynn, 22. Telusa Veainu.
Hawke’s Bay: 1. Kas Lealamanua, 2. Hikawera Elliot, 3. Clint Newland, 4. Bryn Evans, 5. Ross Kennedy, 6. Trent Boswell-Wakefield, 7. Karl Lowe, 8. Mike Coman, 9. Kahn Fotuali’i, 10. Daniel Kirkpatrick, 11. Zac Guildford, 12. Ryan McLeod, 13. Jason Shoemark (captain), 14. Richard Buckman, 15. Luke Rooney.
Reserves: 16. Eugene Smith, 17. Josh Keys, 18. Leighton Price, 19. Michael Johnson or Grant Webb, 20. Chris Eaton, 21. Andrew Horrell, 22. Mark Jackman.
Game 3 Manawatu v Southland Prediction: Southland by 10-15 points
Manawatu has a huge injury toll. Southland however are at full strength.
This season will be difficult for Manawatu, so players like skipper Nick Crosswell in the forwards and Shannon Paku in the backs will be key to their success.
For Southland, Jason Rutledge and Josh Bekhuis will have an eye on a possible end-of-year tour with the AB’s.
Manawatu: 1. Grant Polson, 2. Sean O’Connor, 3. Ma’afu Fia, 4. Michael Fitzgerald, 5. Reece Robinson, 6. Nick Crosswell (captain), 7. Doug Tietjens, 8. Mitchell Crosswell, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Isaac Thompson, 11. Lote Raikabula, 12. Francis Bryant, 13. Hadleigh Parkes, 14. Shannon Paku, 15. Craig Clare.
Reserves: 16. Rob Foreman, 17. Shane Kingsland, 18. Hamish Gosling, 19. James Oliver, 20. Karl Bryson, 21. Tomasi Cama, 22. Casey Stone.
Southland: 1. Jamie Mackintosh (captain), 2. Jason Rutledge, 3. Chris King, 4. Josh Bekhuis, 5. Joe Tuineau, 6. John Hardie, 7. Tim Boys, 8. Elliott Dixon, 9. Scott Cowan, 10. James Wilson, 11. Mark Wells, 12. Matt Saunders, 13. Kendrick Lynn, 14. Glen Horton, 15. Robbie Robinson.
Reserves: 16. Bayden Mitchell, 17. Nic Barrett or Michael Peterson, 18. Dion Bates, 19. Kane Thompson, 20. Nick Annear, 21. Pehi Te Whare, 22. Tony Koonwaiyou.
Game 4 Counties Manukau v Otago Prediction: Otago by 5-10 points
Tana Umaga has been named to start this match. The Steelers have named their strongest team. Otago are without leading props Ben Nolan and Keith Cameron (that’s not making an excuse in advance).
Counties-Manukau have an attacking backline with Tim Nanai-Williams its star.
Otago have Highlanders Adam Thomson and Alando Soakai in their loose forwards. Along with exciting Western Force centre Josh Tatupu.
Otago’s forwards should be too good.
Counties-Manukau: 1. Simon Lemalu, 2. Grant Henson, 3. Jono Owen, 4. Taiasina Tuifua, 5. Jamie Chipman, 6. Fritz Lee, 7. Pepa Kolomatangi, 8. Viliami Fihaki, 9. August Pulu, 10. Dean Cummins (captain), 11. Sherwin Stowers, 12. Tana Umaga, 13. Siale Piutau, 14. Ahsee Tuala, 15. Tim Nanai-Williams.
Reserves: 16. Mark Price, 17. Graham Dewes, 18. Ronald Raaymakers, 19. Jamie Gilbert-Clarke, 20. Samisoni Fisilau, 21. Baden Kerr, 22. Reynold Lee-Lo.
Otago: 1. Kees Meeuws, 2. Peter Mirrielees, 3. Sam Hibberd, 4. Hayden Triggs, 5. Seko Kalou, 6. Adam Thomson, 7. Alando Soakai (captain), 8. Peter Grant, 9. Sean Romans, 10. Glenn Dickson, 11. Fetu’u Vainikolo, 12. Josh Tatupu, 13. Ben Smith, 14. Ryan Shortland, 15. Chris Small.
Reserves: 16. Liam Coltman, 17. Blair Young, 18. Hoani Matenga, 19. Eben Joubert, 20. Johnny Legg, 21. Andrew Parata, 22. Joe Hill.
Game 5 Waikato v Bay of Plenty Prediction: Waikato by 5-10 points
Waikato’s recent All Blacks Liam Messam and Brendon Leonard will be desperate to get on the end of year tour with the All Blacks.
Bay of Plenty has an experienced pack with Culum Retallick and Colin Bourke likely to star this season.
I think this will be the closest of the games this weekend with many predicting an upset. However I’m sticking with the Mooloo men at home.
Waikato: 1. Toby Smith, 2. Aled de Malmanche, 3. Nathan White (captain), 4. Romana Graham, 5. Toby Lynn, 6. Liam Messam, 7. Jack Lam, 8. Stephen Setephano, 9. Brendon Leonard, 10. Trent Renata, 11. Dwayne Sweeney, 12. Jackson Willison, 13. Save Tokula, 14. Sosene Anesi, 15. Christian Leali’ifano.
Reserves: 16. Vern Kamo, 17. Hikairo Forbes, 18. Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 19. Matt Vant Leven, 20. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21. Henry Speight, 22. Tim Mikkelson.
Bay of Plenty: 1. Joe Savage, 2. John Pareanga, 3. Josh Hohneck, 4. Luke Andrews, 5. Culum Retallick, 6. Luke Braid, 7. Tanerau Latimer, 8. Colin Bourke (captain), 9. Taniela Moa, 10. Daniel Waenga, 11. Jason Hona, 12. Grant McQuoid, 13. Brett Mather, 14. Lance MacDonald, 15. Toby Arnold.
Reserves: 16. Simon Chisholm, 17. James McGougan, 18. Aidan Kuka, 19. Solomon King or Sam Cane, 20. Chad Tuoro, 21. Phil Burleigh, 22. Lelia Masaga.
Game 6 North Harbour v Auckland Prediction: Auckland by 10-15 points
North Harbour beat Auckland in the corresponding fixture last year, but things look to be a lot harder this time around.
This match sees the return of some old faces from off shore for the Blues. They are headlined by the Queensland Reds star Daniel Braid, along with Ben Atiga, Toby Morland and Brent Ward.
Harbour will be hoping their star play maker Luke McAlister finds his feet early in the competition, in order to steady the ship.
Auckland will be a slick outfit during this competition, and should atone comfortably here for last years disappointment.
North Harbour: 1. Michael Reid (captain), 2. James Parsons, 3. Ben Afeaki, 4. Matt Luamanu, 5. Shane Neville, 6. Tom Chamberlain, 7. Scott Uren, 8. Richard Mayhew, 9. Grayson Hart, 10. Michael Harris, 11. Alipate Fatafehi, 12. Luke McAlister, 13. Brendon Watt, 14. Ken Pisi, 15. Jack McPhee.
Reserves: 16. Mike Mayhew, 17. Taione Vea, 18. William Whetton, 19. Malakai Ravulo, 20. Nalu Tuigamala, 21. Ben Botica, 22. Jack Tarrant.
Auckland: 1. Tevita Mailau, 2. Tom McCartney, 3. Charlie Faumuina, 4.Kurtis Haiu, 5. Andrew van der Heijden, 6. Onosai’i Auva’a, 7. Daniel Braid, 8. Peter Saili, 9. Toby Morland, 10. Ash Moeke, 11. Chay Raui, 12. Jamie Helleur, 13. Ben Atiga, 14. Atieli Pakalani, 15. Brent Ward.
Reserves: 16. Ash Dixon, 17. Pauliasi Manu, 18. Liaki Moli, 19. Chris Lowery, 20. Brenton Helleur, 21. Matt Berquist, 22. Dave Thomas.
Game 7 Wellington v Tasman Prediction: Wellington by 15-20 points
Wellington captain Rodney So’oialo has been ruled out of the Lions ITM opener. However the side still has a formidable look about it and will be led from prop by Nem Tialata.
The real entertainment factor in this match could come from the Wellington three-quarters, where Hosea Gear has been in excellent form. His partner in crime is the ‘World Under 20 Player of the Year’, Julian Savea. Savea has the raw potential to set this competition alight. It is rumoured that ‘The Three Wise Men’ are taking more than a passing interest in the young mans progress, could he the bolter for the RWC Squad next year.
Chris Jack and the Tasman team, have lost a lot of experience from last season and will have their work cut out to be competitive.
Wellington: 1. John Schwalger, 2. Dane Coles, 3. Neemia Tialata (captain), 4. Jeremy Thrush, 5. Daniel Ramsay, 6. Mark Reddish, 7. Scott Fuglistaller, 8. Faifili Levave, 9. Ruki Tipuna, 10. Fa’atonu Fili, 11. Hosea Gear, 12. Sean Treeby, 13. Alipate Leiua, 14. Julian Savea, 15. Apoua Stewart.
Reserves: 16. Ged Robinson, 17. Reg Goodes, 18. Api Naikatini, 19. TJ Ionae, 20. Jared Kahu, 21. Hayden Cripps, 22. Charlie Ngatai.
Tasman: 1. Sam Prattley, 2. Francis Smith, 3. Fai Mika, 4. Jarrod Aberhart, 5. Chris Jack (captain), 6. Joe Wheeler, 7. Jonathan Poff, 8. Poutasi Luafutu, 9. Steve Alfeld, 10. James Marshall, 11. Afeleki Pelenise, 12. Tom Marshall, 13. Kade Poki, 14. Blair Cook, 15. Robbie Malneek.
Reserves: 16. Vernon Fredericks, 17. Hamish Cochrane, 18. Glen Gregory, 19. Shane Christie, 20. Kaide Whiting, 21. Daniel Hawkins, 22. James Kamana.
Enjoy the start of the ITM Cup this weekend from New Zealand !Tweet