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North Otago goes into this afternoon’s Heartland game against West Coast with the knowledge that win, lose or draw, it will be in the Lochore Cup semifinals at Labour Weekend.
That is unless Horowhenua-Kapiti defeats unbeaten competition leader Wanganui in Wanganui.
North Otago lies in seventh place, two points ahead of Poverty Bay, which meets Thames Valley in Paeroa.
On form, North Otago will meet either King Country or Wairarapa-Bush in an away semifinal.
With centre Shae Tucker still suffering from a groin injury, Josh Casey moves from first to second five-eighth while Tyron Davies, who had his first start against King Country in the 4-4 draw comes into first five-eighth on his form against King Country and South Canterbury last week.
This means Lemi Masoe moves to his favoured centre position.
There are new faces on the bench, with Brad McKenzie, who played last season, coming into the reserves with Connor Newlands and Kayne Middleton, while in the pack Sione Vea is out and Joe Pickett comes into the hooker berth between Ralph Darling and Dan Towler.
Vea’s concussion brings Robbie Richardson into the reserves.
"Shae Tucker is still not 100% so the call has been made to rest him this week," coach Barry Stevens said.
"Obviously we need to win this game against West Coast to secure our place in the Lochore Cup semifinals.
"At the end of the day we still have to rely on another team and that’s not what we really want to do."
Stevens said Davies had impressed when he had come on, and Casey had "indicated a desire" to move to second five-eighth to help out.
"It also gives us another kicking option at 12. We’re expecting underfoot conditions in Greymouth to be possibly slippery so having a kicker at 12 will be good for us.
"We’ve just got to bring that intensity up front that we displayed in those first 30 or 40 minutes last Saturday against South Canterbury. So the game’s going to be won up front."
Stevens is wary of West Coast even though it has won only one game, against East Coast.
"They’ll be wanting to finish off the season with a win to put a bit of pride back into their game. I’ve said right throughout this competition that there’s not a lot of difference between most of the teams and on any given day any team could beat any team.
"We’ve got to be switched on and be ready for the opposition we’re going to receive on the Coast. They’ll be tough up front and will relish the conditions as well and its a side we can’t take lightly. We’ve got to focus on the things that we can do and bring to the game and go to them, not wait for them to come to us."
In other eighth-round games, Wanganui plays Horowhenua-Kapiti, Wairarapa-Bush should earn maximum points against East Coast in Masterton, South Canterbury should edge out Mid Canterbury.
King Country and Buller’s clash could be close in Te Kuiti and Poverty Bay meets Thames Valley.
- Terry O'Neill
N. Otago v West Coast
Greymouth, today, 2.30pm
North Otago: Craig Smith, Simon Lilicama, Lemi Masoe, Josh Casey, Matthew Vocea, Tyron Davies, Robbie Smith, Sione Misiloi, Filipo Veamatahau, Matt Duff, Jared Whitburn, Lucas Goodin, Dan Towler, Joe Pickett, Ralph Darling (captain). Reserves: Robbie Richardson, Melikisua Kolinisau, Maene Mapusaga, Samisoni Tongotongo, Connor Newlands, Brad McKenzie, Kayne Middleton.
West Coast: Brad Tunnicliffe, Eremimo Tau, Regan Stanton, Logan Heath, Maleli Mudu, Nik Cumming, Nick Makea, Amenatave Tukana, Kevin Curtis, Inia Toka, Josh Manning, Kalave Aualiitia, Jesse McRae, Troy Tauwhare, David Crouchley. Reserves: Kelly Rasmussen, Daniel Foord, Martyn Tootell, Brett McBride, Trent Reti, Chad Kingi-Ternant, Kolinio Radrovi.