A new-look Tasman Makos team has been named to take on Manawatu in a ITM Cup match at Palmerston North on Sunday.
Coach Kieran Keane and his assistant Leon MacDonald have made seven changes plus two more positional changes from the team that came so desperately close to winning the Ranfurly Shield off Taranaki last week.
Harlequins utility back George Millar makes his ITM Cup debut on the left wing, replacing James Lowe after sitting on the bench and not getting any game time in the opening two matches.
Vernon Fredericks starts at No 8, replacing Jordan Taufua; Francis Smith takes Quentin MacDonald's place at hooker; Steve Alfeld starts at halfback, replacing Jeremy Su'a; Kieron Fonotia replaces the injured Bryce Heem at centre; and Gary Redmond makes his debut at openside flanker.
Shane Christie shifts from seven to six, making way for Redmond, and Joe Wheeler shifts from six to lock, allowing Filipo Levi to rest, with Riki Hoeata also coming in for his first match of the season.
Keane said the team had been selected in the knowledge it faced three games in seven days from Sunday.
"The changes will freshen up the team and bring a bit of spark. We need to reshuffle the squad and by rotating a few players that will assist," he said.
"The new players have a big opportunity to press claims and reinvigorate the group. We'll run out of petrol if we keep the same players every match."
There is no doubt this Makos team has the ability and firepower to beat Manawatu in what will be its first match against a Championship team. The challenge is to get the team up mentally.
"The big thing is refocusing," Keane said. "Make sure we back up. I think we've got that in hand.
"We want to win all three games in the next week and we've got the belief in this group.
"We don't want to take a step backwards."
Wheeler, one of four Harlequins players from Blenheim in the starting XV, said losing last Saturday was a big blow and it has taken a while to get over it.
"We've all replayed it through our heads since, I think, and to get that close and come away without the shield was pretty disappointing but we've got to get over it because we've got a great opportunity in the next week and a bit to pick up three wins," Wheeler said. "Manawatu are the next challenge and they are not going to be easy.
"If we can keep performing the way we did in the weekend then it bodes well. It's probably more the mental side of things we need to get right this week."
Wheeler believes that, if the Makos can cut out the lapses they have had this season and in past years, they have the potential to be the most successful Makos side he has played in.
There's no doubting the Makos' attacking strikepower. They cut both Canterbury and Taranaki to shreds on several occasions but, against Taranaki especially, defensive lapses and bad reads in some cases ultimately cost them the match.
The addition of Millar and Fonotia to the starting XV will not lessen that strikepower. Fonotia's power and Millar's pace will be key ingredients.
By selecting two openside flankers, it's obvious they want to continue the up-tempo approach that has netted them five points against two of the premiership's big guns. Keane has also stacked the bench with forwards and just two backs.
Manawatu are always an enterprising team. They, too, have attacking firepower to burn, with the brilliant Junior Tomasi Cama leading the backs, supported by a rugged forward pack that muscled up big time to convincingly beat Northland on Wednesday, just a few days after Northland had beaten Waikato.
Kickoff on Sunday is 2.35pm, with Kane McBride from Canterbury the referee.
Tasman Makos: Robbie Malneek, Peter Betham, Kieron Fonotia, Andrew Goodman (cpt), George Millar, Hayden Cripps, Steve Alfeld, Vernon Fredericks, Gary Redmond, Shane Christie, Joe Wheeler, Riki Hoeata, Campbell Johnstone, Francis Smith, Tim Perry.
Subs: Quentin MacDonald, Sam Prattley, Tevita Cavubati, Tevita Koloamatangi, Jordan Taufua, Jeremy Su'a, James Lowe.