Preview: North Harbour v Waikato

24th Aug 2012, 14:10

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Top of the props: Ben Afeaki

Top of the props: Ben Afeaki

Waikato open their 2012 season in Albany, where the hosts will be looking to follow in Tasman's footsteps by posting an upset win.

Waikato open their 2012 season on the road to North Harbour in Albany, where the hosts will be looking to follow in Tasman's footsteps by posting an upset win in their opening round clash.

The Makos shocked defending champions Canterbury on Friday after winning 25-22 in Nelson and North Harbour will no doubt take confidence from that victory when they tackle the Premiership runners-up in 2011.

It will be a massive upset if last year's bottom-placed Championship team (2 wins, 8 losses) manage to topple the team that finished top of the Premiership table.

And with Canterbury next on Harbour's fixture list next Sunday, the home side will be sure to expect an almighty backlash from the men in red and black in Christchurch.

So a win here is imperetive for Harbour as they run the risk of facing back-to-back defeats, which will leave them with a mountain to climb for the remainder of the season.

"We've been the team that's been to the finals the last two years in a row and teams will be wanting to knock us off," said Waikato coach Chris Gibbes.

"We'd be foolish not to acknowledge that and prepare for that.

"I've still got less than fond memories of 2008 when we went up there and got our arses handed to us."

New North Harbour head coach Liam Barry has named a strong team for the ITM Cup opener with plenty of Super Rugby experience on show and seven players making their starting debuts.

Western Force and former Australia U20 prop Salesi Manu forms a formidable front row with co-captains for the season in hooker James Parsons and prop Ben Afeaki. Parsons stepped up well to Super Rugby for the first time this year with the Blues, while powerhouse Afeaki was part of the victorious Chiefs team.

The teams:

North Harbour: 15 Luke Devcich, 14 David Raikuna, 13 Cory Aporo, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Nafi Tuitavake, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jim Tuivaiti, 7 Sam Hayes-Stevenson, 6 Malakai Ravulo, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Chris Smith, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 James Parsons, 1 Salesi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Manu Leiataua, 17 James Afoa, 18 Api Ratuniyarawa, 19 Irwin Finau, 20 Brenton Helleur, 21 Pita AhKi, 22 Codey Rei.

Waikato: tbc