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North Otago and Horowhenua-Kapiti will have ample motivation when the two sides meet at Whitestone Stadium this afternoon.
Just three points separate the unions in the Heartland Championship standings. North Otago is sixth with 10 points, while its opponent is eighth on seven points.
Horowhenua-Kapiti coach Chris Wilton, now in his third year with the side, guided his team to the Meads Cup final last year.
"We’ve lost a few players from last year. But this year it’s all about making 2018 our own and putting 2017 behind us after losing the Meads Cup final to Whanganui," Wilton said.
Horowhenua-Kapiti will lean on experienced lock Ryan Shelford, who has amassed more than 80 games for his province.
Scott Cameron is a strong tighthead prop, while in the backs first five-eighth James So’oialo and left winger Willie Paia’aua are good attacking players.
Fullback Ethan Reti can be elusive as well.
"This season we’ve had a wider range of players to select from with a couple of extra teams involved. But we’ve started the Heartland sluggishly.
"South Canterbury outplayed us last game. We got a wake up-call from Mid Canterbury.
"We haven’t hit our best form yet mainly because we have been a slow starter.
"We need to start playing out the full 80 minutes. The potential is there."
North Otago has made several changes. Jared Whitburn returns to the second row in place of Pita Sinamoni, while openside flanker Matt Duff returns.
In the backs, North Otago’s player of origin Kieran McClea makes his first class debut at halfback. Francis Kelly, who played fullback against King Country, returns to the left wing.
Burly utility Hemaua Samasoni comes into the side on the right wing and winger Simon Lillicama shifts to fullback.
In the other games this weekend, South Canterbury hosts East Coast, Wanganui plays Mid Canterbury, Thames Valley meets King Country, Wairarapa-Bush takes on Buller and West Coast comes up against Poverty Bay.
- Terry O'Neill
North Otago v Horowhenua-Kapiti
Whitestone Stadium, today, 2.30pm
North Otago: Simon Lillicama, Hemaua Samasoni, Paul Tupai, Taina Tamou, Francis Kelly, Josh Buchan, Kieran McClea, Mikaele Mafi, Matthew Duff, Filipo Veamatahau, Jared Whitburn, Anthony Amato, Melikisua Kolinisau, Sam Sturgess (captain), Ralph Darling. Reserves: Jake Greenslade, Kelepi Funaki, Braden Barnes, Junior Fakatoufifita, Inoke Naufahu, Tyler Burgess, Matthew Vocea.
Horowhenua-Kapiti: Reti Ethan, Dylan Taylor, Kalim Kelemete, Timoci Serawalu, Willie Paia’aua, James S’ooialo, Leon Ellison, Tyson Maki, Aaron Lahmert, Joel Winterburn, Ryan Shelford, Tainui Woodmas, Scott Cameron, Dean Ropata, Robin Praat. Reserves: David McErlean, Tiwana Paringatai, Tom Zimmerman, TJ Fermanis, Tainui Brown, Stewart McGregor, Edward Seiuli.