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McKenzie returns to No 10 for Waikato while RTS gets a midfield run for Auckland

By Tom Vinicombe
(Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

Currently sitting undefeated at the top of the Odds conference, Waikato will face a litmus test at home this weekend when they take on an inconsistent Auckland side at FMG Stadium Waikato on Friday.


Following an opening-round draw with Hawke’s Bay, Waikato have banked victories over Northland, Counties Manukau, Manawatu and Taranaki to sit two points clear of Hawke’s Bay and Wellington atop their pool with a game in hand. At this stage of the competition, however, it’s unlikely any of the sides they’ve come out trumps over will feature in the final rounds of the competition, with Northland the only one of the beaten provinces to currently reside in a quarter-final spot on the ladder.

While Auckland haven’t exactly been a picture of consistency, dropping matches to Bay of Plenty and Northland in recent times, they do possess one of the most potent squads in the competition and with the likes of AJ Lam, Salesi Rayasi and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to call upon in their backline, Friday’s match should prove a major challenge for Waikato.

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Head coach Ross Filipo has again made several changes to his squad that beat Taranaki in New Plymouth last Saturday afternoon, including shifting Damian McKenzie back into the No 10 jersey after getting a taste of action at fullback against the Bulls.

Changes to the forward pack are at lock and in the loose forwards, with Laghlan McWhannell returning to the match-day 23 to partner James Tucker in the second row.

Samipeni Finau will make his return from injury in the blindside flanker role, having not featured over the past two rounds, and will take over from Patrick McCurran who moves to the reserves. The final change to the forward pack sees Liam Messam slot in at number 8 with Luke Jacobson unavailable after getting called into the All Blacks squad.

McKenzie’s return to first five-eighth allows Tepaea Cook-Savage to to suit up at fullback.


The only change to the reserves sees Tana Tuhakaraina handed the No 21 jersey with a chance to make his second appearance in Waikato colours.


On the other side of the ledger, Blues teammates Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Bryce Heem will combine in the midfield, with AJ Lam shifting from the No 13 jersey out to the right wing.

Lock Jamie Lane and loose forwards Adrian Choat and Jackson Pugh are the only forwards to retain their spots following last weekend’s defeat to the Taniwha, with Jordan Lay, Soane Vikena and Angus Ta’avao forming an entirely new front row, Hamish Dalzell coming in at No 5 and Terrell Peita getting a run on the blindside flank.


Friday night’s match between Waikato and Auckland is set to kick off at 7.05pm from FMG Stadium Waikato.

Waikato: Tepaea Cook-Savage, Liam Coombes-Fabling, Bailyn Sullivan, Alapati Leuia, Daniel Sinkinson, Damian McKenzie, Xavier Roe, Liam Messam, Mitch Jacobson, Samipeni Finau, Laghlan McWhannell, James Tucker, Sefo Kautai, Rhys Marshall, Ayden Johnstone. Reserves: Pita Anae-Sue, Ollie Norris, George Dyer, Te Rama Ruben, Patrick McCurran, Cortez Ratima, Tana Tuhakaraina, Mosese Dawai.

Auckland: Jordan Trainor, AJ Lam, Bryce Heem, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Salesi Rayasi, Harry Plummer, Taufa Funaki, Jackson Pugh, Adrian Choat, Terrell Peita, Hamish Dalzell, Jamie Lane, Angus Ta’avao, Soane Vikena, Jordan Lay. Reserves: Robbie Abel, Sam Lester, Marcel Renata, Connor Vest, Vaiolini Ekusai, Manu Paea, Simon Hickey, Corey Evans.


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