The Bay of Plenty Steamers will take on Southland at Rotorua International Stadium tonight, celebrating Maori Rugby.
Following last week's announcement of Clayton McMillan as Maori All Blacks Head Coach, it is fitting his side will be proudly supported by several former Bay of Plenty Maori All Blacks who will be proudly hosted by the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union for the mid-week fixture.
McMillan has rotated a number of the forwards for the game. Solomona Sakalia will start ahead of Aidan Ross and will be joined by hooker Liam Polwart and tighthead prop Jeff Thwaites in his blazer game.
In his blazer game, Troy Callander moves to the bench, making way for the formidable locking duo of Captain Keepa Mewett and Culum Retallick to complete the tight five.
Tom Franklin will move from the bench to the blindside with Hugh Blake starting at seven, ahead of Henry Stowers who will make an impact from the bench in his blazer game. Jesse Parete will be the starting number eight in place of Tyler Ardron who has suffered an eye injury.
Luke Campbell will move to the bench, making way for the return of the 9-10 combination of Richard Judd and Mike Delany. The midfield will see Terrence Hepetema start at second five eight alongside Lalakai Foketi at centre.
Joe Webber will return to the left wing with Chase Tiatia moving back to fullback and Isaac Te Aute heads to head bench in his blazer game, with Monty Ioane the starting right winger to complete an elusive back three.
The Lay brothers maintain their position on the bench and will be joined by All Black hooker Nathan Harris. Utility back Elijah Nicholas will be the midfield cover with Liam Steel ruled out with a broken jaw for the remainder of the season.
McMillan is under no illusion the threat the southern men present and the hunger required from the Steamers' 23 to secure a home win.
“The team is looking forward to playing Southland in Rotorua. We expect it to be a formidable challenge. Their record is not a true reflection of their ability. They have been in every game for large periods and we will need to be at our best for 80 minutes to get a result in what will be a pivotal game for both teams' seasons.
“If we stick to our processes, show patience and a hunger to convert opportunities, we will do well.”
The Bay of Plenty Steamers Team
1. Solomona Sakalia (31)
2. Liam Polwart (8)
3. Jeff Thwaites (14)**
4. Culum Retallick (107)
5. Keepa Mewett (27) – Captain
6. Tom Franklin (5)
7. Hugh Blake (13)
8. Jesse Parete (13)
9. Richard Judd (4)
10. Mike Delany (66) – Vice Captain
11. Joe Webber (4)
12. Terrence Hepetema (12)
13. Lalakai Foketi (23)
14. Monty Ioane (16)
15. Chase Tiatia (19)
16. Nathan Harris (27)
17. Jordan Lay (3)
18. James Lay (3)
19. Troy Callander (16)
20. Henry Stowers (14)**
21. Luke Campbell (9)
22. Elijah Nicholas (10)
23. Isaac Te Aute (14)**
() Denotes number of games
* Denotes Bay of Plenty Steamers debut
** Denotes Blazer game