July 29, 2011 was the last time these two met in a Shield challenge, when Southland secured an eight-point victory. This time, it’s the hosts hoping to one-up their opponents.
MISSING IN ACTION: Counties Manukau have all but one of their regular starters back for the final Ranfurly Shield defence for 2013. Sherwin Stowers is away with the All Black Sevens, but the Steelers will be bolstered by the returning Baden Kerr, Frank Halai, Hika Elliot and Fritz Lee.Meanwhile Southland welcome back Josh Bekhuis after the lock sprained his knee in their clash with Hawke’s Bay a week earlier. Teammate Nick Barrett has been unable to take a full part in training but has proven his fitness and has been slotted into the team.
FORM: Counties Manukau’s first season in the Premiership saw them start with a limp 16-55 defeat to Wellington at home. A 20-point defeat in Round 3 would have had many questioning their abilities. That was, until the Ranfurly Shield was on offer. The union secured the Shield with a memorable 27-24 win against Hawke’s Bay in a run that has seen them win four consecutive games. They hold a seven point lead over fifth placed Waikato and welcome back a number of players who will be key to their imminent semi-final against Wellington.
Southland’s steely resolve has once again seen them come from the point of no return to semi-final contention. Winless for the first three rounds with just a point to show for their efforts, Southland made the turn in form in the following round with a mature display over Premiership outfit Waikato to get some confidence back. They would later defeat another top-tier team, Bay of Plenty, away from home.
WE THINK: There will be no shortage of motivation for either side heading into what shapes as a crucial encounter for either side. For Counties Manukau, being able dust off the trophy cabinet to make space for the Ranfurly Shield over summer will be their biggest priority, while Southland will need a victory to confirm their spot in the semi-finals.
Willis Halaholo has injected a real spark into the Southland backline and is a genuine attacking threat. Regardless it will be up front where the visitors are expected to dominate despite the return of Elliot and Lee for the hosts. This one is set to be a tight battle that will go the 80 minutes. If Baden Kerr has his kicking boots on then penalties could very well be all that separates the two teams.
Counties by 2.
Counties Manukau: 1. Sam Aiono, 2. Hika Elliot, 3. Jarrod Firth, 4. Ronald Raaymakers, 5. Jimmy Tupou, 6. Adam Cathcart, 7. Maama Vaipulu, 8. Fritz Lee (c), 9. Kane Hancy, 10. Baden Kerr, 11. Toni Pulu, 12. Bundee Aki, 13. Rey Lee-Lo, 14. Frank Halai, 15. Ahsee Tuala.
Reserves: 16. Suliasi Taufalele, 17. Matt Talaese, 18. Sikeli Nabou, 19. Mark Selwyn, 20. Lucky Palamo, 21. Ki Anufe, 22. Sam Vaka.
Southland: 1. Jamie Mackintosh (c), 2. David Hall, 3. JP Koen, 4. Josh Bekhuis, 5. Michael Fatialofa, 6. John Hardie, 7. Tim Boys, 8. Elliot Dixon, 9. Scott Eade, 10. Marty McKenzie, 11. Tim Cornforth, 12. Willis Halaholo, 13. Cardiff Vaega, 14. Bryan Milne, 15. Robbie Robinson.
Reserves: 16. Talemaitoga Tuapati, 17. Nick Barrett, 18. Hale T-Pole, 19. Naulia Dawai, 20. Tayler Adams, 21. Calvary Fonoti, 22. Keanu Kahukura.