Preview: Counties v Manawatu

Date published: August 14 2015

Counties Manukau head coach Tana Umaga has chosen to leave Jordan Taufua on the bench for their home ITM Cup opener against Manawatu.

The side features eight players making their ITM Cup debut for the Steelers. In the XV those players are Gafatasi Su'a, Mike Lawrenson, Richard Judd, Piers Francis, Sione Fifita and Cardiff Vaega while Nathan de Thierry and Johnny Fa'auli will make their bow if they come off the bench in Sunday's fixture.

"We have a young group and with that comes excitement and enthusiasm, so we are looking forward Sunday," boss Umaga told the Steelers' website.

"It is a big game for both teams and we want to make a good impression, especially in front of our home crowd and start our season well. It is such a short tournament, so you can't afford to slowly."

Meanwhile, Turbos captain Callum Gibbins is scheduled to play his 50th game.

Wing Newton Tudreu will also notch up a milestone playing in his 20th game in what will no doubt be a high paced affair.

The first starting line-up of 2015 has good mixture of new and experienced faces with the majority of differences seen in the forward pack. New front-rowers Adrian Barone and Michael Alaalatoa will join Turbos centurion Rob Foreman up front with Tom Parsons taking a spot in the second-row alongside Fraser Stone.

In the loose forwards new recruit Mark Atkins will wear the number eight jersey with Antonio Kiri Kiri getting the nod on the blindside after an outstanding club rugby season and pre-season.

A familiar backline will take to the field with the obvious change at full-back where Semisi Masirewa will start with Nehe Milner-Skudder of course away on All Blacks duty. In the halves Jamie Booth will start and Toby Morland will take a spot on the bench in the place of the injured Kayne Hammington.

The teams:

Counties: 15 Jared Page, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Sam Vaka, 12 Cardiff Vaega, 11 Sione Fifita, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Richard Judd, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Sam Henwood, 6 Jimmy Tupou (c), 5 Viliame Rarasea, 4 Mike Lawrenson, 3 Jarrod Firth, 2 Gafatasi Su'a, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Michael Lea, 17 Sean Bagshaw, 18 John Tu'ungafasi, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Onosai Auva'a, 21 Kane Hancy, 22 Nathan de Thierry, 23 Johnny Fa'auli.

Manawatu: 15 Semisi Masirewa, 14 Newton Tudreu, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Hamish Northcott, 11 Nathan Tudreu, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jamie Booth, 8 Mark Atkins, 7 Callum Gibbins (c), 6 Antonio Kiri Kiri, 5 Tom Parsons, 4 Fraser Stone, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Rob Foreman, 1 Adrian Barone.
Replacements: 16 Nick Grogan, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Tim Cadwallader, 19 Velantino Mapapalangi, 20 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 21 Toby Morland, 22 Jaxon Tagavaitau, 23 Hamiora Thomas.

Date: Sunday, August 16
Venue: ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe
Kick-off: 14:35 local (02:35 GMT)
Referee: Brendon Pickerill