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Hoskins Sotutu set for first match in two months as Counties start All Blacks trio

By Tom Vinicombe
Hoskins Sotutu. (Photo by Antonietta Baldassarre/Insidefoto/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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Counties Manukau will go into their third-round NPC clash with Waikato with some extra firepower in their forwards courtesy of the return of three seasoned internationals.

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Nepo Laulala, Dalton Papalii and Hoskins Sotutu will all run out for the Steelers on Friday night in what will be their first taste of action in some time.

While Laulala and Papalii were both given opportunities for the All Blacks against Ireland in July, neither player featured on the recent tour to South Africa, with Laulala remaining at home nursing an injury and Papalii a travelling squad member but unused over the two matches.

For Sotutu, this weekend’s match will mark his first appearance on the pitch in two months, since the Super Rugby Pacific final back in mid-June.

While the young loose forward was a massive contributor for the Blues throughout the season, notching up 13 games throughout their campaign, All Blacks coach Ian Foster has opted to exclusively field Ardie Savea in the No 8 jersey to kick-start the year.

That means Sotutut will undoubtedly be itching to make an impact on the field when he dons that same jersey against Waikato at Navigation Homes Stadium in Pukekohe on Friday.

The Steelers currently sit fifth in the Odds conference – one spot away from a quarter-final berth – having earned a one-point last-minute win over Otago in the opening round of the competition before going down by a solitary point themselves in last weekend’s Ranfurly Shield challenge with Hawke’s Bay.

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Defending champions Waikato, meanwhile, occupy fourth in the same group, having drawn with Hawke’s Bay and narrowly tipped up Northland.

While Waikato haven’t been able to call upon either of their current two All Blacks, hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho and midfielder Quinn Tupaea, they have again named Damian McKenzie in the No 10 jersey for this weekend’s local clash.

Counties Manukau: Etene Nanai-Seturo, Jared Page, Nikolai Foliaki, AJ Alatimu, Peniasi Malimali, Riley Hohepa, Cameron Roigard, Hoskins Sotutu, Sean Reidy (c), Dalton Papalii, Samuel Slade, William Furniss, Nepo Laulala, Zuriel Togiatama, Ezekiel Lindenmuth. Reserves: Ioane Moanunu, Mark Royal, Suetena Asomua, Jadin Kingi, Setefano Leavasa, Liam Daniela, Tevita Ofa, Esau Filimoehala.

Waikato: Liam Coombes-Fabling, Daniel Sinkinson, Bailyn Sullivan, D’Angelo Leuila, Mosese Dawai, Damian McKenzie, Rhys Dickinson, Te Rama Reuben, Mitch Jacobson (cc), Samipeni Finau, Laghlan McWhannell, Hamilton Burr, Sosefo Kautai, Pita Anae Ah-Sue, Ayden Johnstone (cc). Reserves: Rhys Marshall, Ollie Norris, Solomone Tukuafu, James Thompson, Liam Messam, Xavier Roe, Taha Kemara, Alapati Leuia.

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