It's Round Six of the ITM Cup and Southland remain top of the standings following their fifth successive win to remain the only team unbeaten in the competition.
The Stags sit two points ahead of Wellington who won their third straight with victory over Northland. Taranaki and Canterbury, who both had wins in week five, round out the top four while Otago sit at the bottom of the table with just one point.
Friday, 3rd September
Canterbury v Bay of Plenty
All talk has been whether or not Canterbury's high-profile signing Sonny Bill Williams will make an appearance off the bench in the sixth round clash against Bay of Plenty at AMI Stadium on Friday.
The long wait to see the former rugby league star in action for the defending champs could finally be over should the former Toulon centre make his much-awaited Canterbury debut in the second spell.
Canterbury coach Rob Penney has said he's taking a cautious approach with Williams because the 25-year-old is short of match fitness - knee and hamstring injuries have restricted his training. There is merit to this argument, given Williams hasn't played top-level rugby since May.
A clinical 35-16 win over Auckland, just their second of the season, saw Canterbury move up to fourth from sixth and they will expect further movement in the next two weeks with Bay of Plenty and Northland next on their schedule.
Canterbury should possess too much firepower for Bay of Plenty after including Tri-Nations All Blacks Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks and Corey Flynn in their forwards.
Beating the men in red and black at AMI Stadium in Christchurch is always a big ask - however Bay of Plenty were one of three teams which tipped over Canterbury last season, the Bay's 19-17 victory at Mount Maunganui coming a week after Canterbury had taken the Ranfurly Shield off Wellington.
The Steamers occupy eighth spot on the ladder (played five, won two) following last Sunday's victory over North Harbour at the Rotorua International Stadium.
The win also moved Lelia Masaga onto the ITM Cup try-scoring tally. His three touchdowns and a try against Hawkes Bay, have moved him to within two touchdowns of try-scoring leader Robert Fruean (Canterbury).
Canterbury: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Tu Umaga-Marshall, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Telusa Veainu, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 George Whitelock (c), 6 Matt Todd, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Steve Fualau, 17 Peter Borlase, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Ash Parker, 20 Takerei Norton, 21 Sam Monaghan, 22 Sonny Bill Williams.
Bay of Plenty: 15 Toby Arnold, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Brett Mather, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Ben Smith, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Colin Bourke (c), 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Luke Braid, 5 Culum Retallick, 4 Luke Andrews, 3 James McGougan, 2 Dan Perrin, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Replacements: 16 Simon Chisholm, 17 Tristan Moran 18 Luke Katene, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Chad Tuoro, 21 Daniel Waenga, 22 Jason Hona.
Referee: Garratt Williamson
Saturday, 4 September
Manawatu v Wellington
The winless Turbos will be out to end a five-match losing streak in the ITM Cup when they host Wellington at FNG Stadium on Saturday.
Having not yet won a game so far this season, Manawatu are desperate to add points to the scoreboard to get those critical points needed to send them up in the tournament standings.
After last Sunday's 9-17 loss against Hawke's Bay, the Turbos will have to step up their game this week as they clash with their Super Rugby cousins in Palmerston North.
The last time the Turbos faced Wellington was during the pre-season when they came out on top 35-29 after scoring an impressive five tries.
Wellington were the big movers last week - a 31-28 bonus-point victory after trailing a feisty Northland 10-25 at half-time, saw them glide up the standings into second from fifth a week before.
Lions coaches Andre Bell and Richard Watt have made a handful of changes, including a new front row and midfield pairing, for this match from the team that pipped Northland at home last Saturday.
The front row sees 2007 Turbos hooker Ged Robinson replace Dane Coles, Jacob Ellison come into the starting side at loosehead prop and John Schwalger switch from the loosehead to the tighthead side of the scrum for Neemia Tialata. Former Manawatu prop David Te Moana and hooker Motu Matu'u come on to the bench for the first time this year.
Tajhon Mailata earns his first ITM Cup start for the Lions at outside centre in place of Charlie Ngatai and newly named Highlander Shaun Treeby moves in one position to number twelve. Alapati Leiua replaces an inured Hosea Gear (hamstring) on the left wing, with Buxton Popoalii warming pine.
Last year the Lions scored seven tries in winning 43-15 after leading just 14-8 at halftime, halfback Alby Mathewson scoring two tries. In their previous two clashes in Palmerston North since the expanded 14-team competition started four seasons ago, Wellington won 11-3 in 2006 and 36-13 in 2008.
Saturday's game also paves way for setting a world record. The Manawatu Rugby Union along with the famous Bucketheads, are attempting to set a world record for the most people wearing a bucket on their heads' at a rugby game.
Wellington: 15 Apoua Stewart, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Tajhon Mailata, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Alipate Leiua, 10 Fa'atonu Fili, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Rodney So'oialo, 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Victor Vito, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 John Schwalger, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Jacob Ellison.
Replacements: Motu Matu'u, 17 David Te Moana, 18 Faifili Levave, 19 Dean Brunsdon, 20 Ruki Tipuna, 21 Lima Sopoaga, 22 Buxton Popoali'i.
Referee: Vinny Munro
Northland v Southland
Once again, the Ranfurly Shield will be safely tucked away when Southland play Northland in Whangarei on Saturday.
A hard-fought win over Tasman last weekend means the Stags have come through their first five games unbeaten in 2010 - two away from home - but will know not to underestimate the unpredictable Taniwha.
Northland have surprisingly played some decent rugby this year and were very unlucky to lose 25-24 to North Harbour and 31-28 to Wellington - both games lost in the final minutes of the match. Last week, they led 25-10 against the Lions at half-time before fading in the last 20 minutes.
"They'll be looking at how we have been playing the game, they think that's how we will play it but we will try and bring something new to the table to avoid being predictable," Northland coach Bryce Woodward told NZPA.
"No one has been able to open them up this season and that's the challenge.
"Against Wellington, our line-out was poor and when Wellington started to put the pressure on, we fell of one on one tackles. If we can tidy these two areas, we can knock over some teams."
He will be looking to rugged All Black winger Rene Ranger to punch holes in the Southland defence, as he did to set up two tries against Wellington, and the wise old heads of fly-half David Holwell and skipper Jared Payne to mastermind play.
"Jared is tactically one of the more astute players in my time coaching," said Woodward.
"He is a very clever footballer, a good athlete with a lot of knowledge of the game big part of our success."
Woodward, with an eye on the boot of Southland pivot Robbie Robinson, who sank Tasman with seven penalties in a 21-16 win, said discipline would be a key to the game.
If Northland pull off the upset of the season so far, Wellington, currently second, have a good chance to move to the top of the standings if they beat cellar dwellers Manawatu.
Southland: Glen Horton, Tony Koonwaiyou, Kendrick Lynn, Matt Saunders, James Paterson, Robbie Robinson, Scott Cowan, Kane Thompson, Tim Boys, Dion Bates, Joe Tuineau, Josh Bekhuis, Chris King, Brayden Mitchell, Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: Jason Rutledge, Micheal Peterson, Elliot Dixon, Sonny Rangitoheriri, Seminar Manu, Mark Wells.
Northland: Lachie Munro, Rene Ranger, Jared Payne, Aaron Bancroft, Iwi Hauraki, David Holwell, Rhyan Caine, Cameron Eyre, Dan Pryor, Dean Budd, Mark Burman, Pat O'Connor, Bronson Murray, Tim Dow, Matt Wallis.
Replacements: Mikaele Tuu'u, Ross Wright, Roy Griffin, Cam Coodhue, Luke Hamilton, Aden Dewes, Mateo Malupo.wKickoff: 5.30pm, today in Whangarei.
Referee: Matthew Stanish