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With just two games left in the regular season after today, North Otago will have to win to reach its ambition of making the Meads Cup playoffs.
The home side will be without powerful No8 Mika Mafi for the game. Mafi, after playing for Otago against Auckland on September 21, backed it up with an impressive display for North Otago against South Canterbury last Saturday.
But he has been called back into the Otago squad to play Wellington tomorrow.
Josh Clark will take over the No8 role and new cap Morgan Dawes will wear the No7 jersey after a quality game for the development team against South Canterbury in the curtain-raiser last Saturday.
Kurow prop Petelo Pouhila comes in as hooker, Junior Fakatoufifita will start as blindside flanker and Jared Whitburn, who was a regular last season, will lock, replacing an injured Don Lolo. In the backs, Antini Brown will start at first five-eighth, Lisala Halaleva goes to the right wing while Lio Lolo will start at centre where he impressed against King Country a fortnight ago.
Poverty Bay had a morale-boosting win over West Coast last weekend, its second victory in the Heartland competition, and it now sits in ninth place, just four points behind North Otago.
North Otago coach Nigel Walsh realises the importance of this game.
"It’s a must-win game. We’ve put a bit of pressure on ourselves so now we’ve got to go out and react to that pressure and get a win.
"Last week, against South Canterbury, we missed a lot of tackles and a lot of turnovers," he said.
Walsh does not underrate Poverty Bay.
"Poverty Bay is improving week by week. They’re not going to be an easy team and we’ve got a lot of respect for them. They had a good win over West Coast last week so they’ll be on a bit of a high. We’re expecting a tough battle."
The home ground situation and the fact it is midfield back Lemi Masoe’s 100th first-class game should boost North Otago.
"It’s a hell of an achievement not just locally but further afield with the NZ Heartland XV and as far as the home ground is concerned we’ve got to make it hard for the opposition and just concentrate on what we do, not on what the opposition do."
In other games, Buller meets bottom team East Coast in Ruatoria and Thames Valley plays Mid Canterbury. Fifth-placed Whanganui takes on King Country, West Coast, on 14 points with North Otago, plays competition leader South Canterbury in Greymouth and second placed Horowhenua-Kapiti plays Wairarapa-Bush in Masterton tomorrow.
- Terry O'Neill
Oamaru, today, 2pm
North Otago: Josh Buchan, Lisala Halaleva, Lio Lolo, Lemi Masoe, Matthew Vocea, Antini Brown, Robbie Smith, Josh Clark, Morgan Dawes, Junior Fakatoufifita, Jared Whitburn, Tom McDonald, Meli Kolinisau, Petelo Pouhila, Ralph Darling (captain). Reserves: Sam Sturgess, Joe Pickett, Filipo Veamatahau, Matt Duff, Inoke Naufahu, Dan Lewis, Aaron Martin.
Poverty Bay: Ethine Rees, Andrew Tauatevalu, Ratu Daura, Brody Lam, Jesse Fleming, Jake Holmes, Mario Counsell, Siosiua Moala, James Grogan, William Tamatea, Everard Reid, Leslie Hills, Sione Ngatu, Isiah Leach, Tamani Hill. Reserves: Simisi Akana, Alisana Leatio’o, Jacob Cook, Fawn White, Willy Grogan, Kelvin Smith, Anthony Kararune.