Spirit gears up for challenging game

From valiant to victorious — the Otago Spirit’s quest for a breakthrough win in the top tier of the Farah Palmer Cup resumes in Pukekohe tomorrow.

The Counties-Manukau pack will present a rather formidable obstacle, though. It is probably one of the bigger teams in the competition. Otago is missing some key players which will not help.

Lock Morgan Henderson, experienced midfielder Kilisitina Moata’ane and loose forward Maddie Feaunati are all sidelined with concussion.

The Spirit will no doubt look to spread the ball wide and play the game at a high tempo to counter the obvious threat Counties-Manukau possesses.

It is a game plan which has served the team rather well. Otago has started the campaign with back-to-back losses.

But it is the Spirit’s first season in the premiership and it has been perhaps more competitive than some may have expected.

The 13-5 lost to Wellington in the opening round was probably a game Otago should have won.

Auckland scored three late tries to pull away and win 39-15 at Logan Park on Sunday. But the game was a lot more competitive than the final margin suggests.

Coach Scott Manson felt his team had done well overall but it was disappointing it could not find the finishing touches.

"We are pleased with our intent and there has been a lot of heart and ticker present in this team, that is for sure," he said.

"But we would be lying if we said we weren’t disappointed with some of the outcomes when we have played so well in parts of the games.

"We should have beaten Wellington and we were in the fight against Auckland as well."

Otago has uncovered a bit of a star in 17-year-old Otago Girls’ High School pupil Oceana Campbell. The winger leads the competition for metres run.

"She scored a fantastic try in the weekend and has been able to create things from nothing as well which has been awesome.

"She has got a bit of power and pace but to be fair it is her heads-up awareness she has at the moment which is pretty fantastic.

"She learns fast, she wants to get better and is always putting herself into the right position."

Greer Muir’s return from injury this season has been a huge boost for the side.

"She has put in some pretty big shifts. Morgan Henderson has been massive for us in terms of her work rate, so she is a loss."

Otago has four players inside the top 10 for tackles made and Henderson was eighth on the list.

Hooker Teagan Hollows was third with 12.5 a game. Centre Teilah Ferguson (6th) is averaging 12 tackles a game and Muir (10th) has averaged 11.

The Spirit has been gutsy. Very gutsy. It will need to be again.

"Counties are probably the biggest team in the competition and rely heavily on a power game and they’ve got the class of Hazel Tubic to kick them around the park.

"But we’re going in with the mindset of that first 30 minutes is going to be really, really tough. They are going to bring it to us.

"But we think if we can at least match them for the first 30 and then put the pressure on them ... we reckon we can beat them."

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