Waikato look­ing for a favour

Waikato Times - - Sport - JOSEPH PEAR­SON

Waikato rely on Can­ter­bury beat­ing Auck­land at Eden Park on Fri­day to have any chance of avoid­ing rel­e­ga­tion to the Mitre 10 Cup cham­pi­onship.

The Mooloos face Bay of Plenty in Tau­ranga on Saturday hop­ing their fate is back in their hands, where a win - pro­vid­ing Auck­land lose - would keep them in the premier­ship.

Not since 1986 have Waikato played in the sec­ond tier of the pro­vin­cial struc­ture and los­ing a prov­ince record of six straight matches has left the Mooloos in this bleak po­si­tion.

Last Sun­day’s gut-wrench­ing 13-11 de­feat to North Har­bour - cour­tesy of Ben Volavola’s dra­matic last-gasp penalty - meant Waikato re­mained bot­tom of the premier­ship ahead of the week’s fi­nal round of reg­u­lar-sea­son fix­tures.

The Mooloos (on 15 points) can only leapfrog Auck­land, who sit sixth on 17 points, to es­cape the cham­pi­onship’s trap door.

Waikato will be rel­e­gated if Auck­land beat Can­ter­bury.

Zac Guild­ford is back after miss­ing the last three weeks with a ham­string in­jury and said con­fi­dence was still there de­spite Waikato col­lect­ing just one com­pe­ti­tion point since Septem­ber 3.

‘‘The boys are stay­ing rel­a­tively pos­i­tive, but at the same time we’re pretty dis­ap­pointed at how the last month or so has been,’’ he said.

‘‘There’s been a big fo­cus on our­selves and what we need to do to win the game this week­end.’’

‘‘There’s a bit of edge float­ing around the en­vi­ron­ment and the boys are ea­ger to put on a good per­for­mance.’’

Can­ter­bury did Waikato no favours in last year’s fi­nal round when the Mooloos were try­ing to sneak into the premier­ship semi­fi­nals ahead of Coun­ties Manukau or Tas­man.

Waikato did their part, se­cur­ing a 28-24 bonus point vic­tory in Welling­ton, but Can­ter­bury suf­fered

their first de­feat to Coun­ties in 18 years, los­ing 33-21 in Pukekohe, as the Steel­ers and Tas­man, who thrashed South­land 56-0, se­cured the fi­nal two avail­able semi-fi­nal spots.

But Can­ter­bury were al­ready as­sured of top spot in 2016 - and rested key play­ers - when they faced Coun­ties and travel to Auck­land on Fri­day need­ing a point to con­firm a home semi-fi­nal against ei­ther North Har­bour or Tas­man.

Auck­land’s record against Can-

ter­bury isn’t flash ei­ther. Can­ter­bury have won 11 of their last 12 meet­ings and have a point to prove after los­ing the Ranfurly Shield to Taranaki last Fri­day.

Waikato will have never cheered as loud for any Can­ter­bury side as they will on Fri­day night.

But the Mooloos can only fo­cus on beat­ing Bay of Plenty, who need a win them­selves to se­cure a cham­pi­onship semi-fi­nal place.

Waikato also have to ad­dress the is­sues which have led to sixth suc­ces­sive de­feats after win­ning two of their opening three matches in this cam­paign.

‘‘We haven’t been good enough at crit­i­cal times. We’re try­ing re­ally hard to get it right at those times,’’ Waikato coach Sean Bother­way said.

‘‘In this com­pe­ti­tion, pres­sure builds re­ally quickly. Some­times the harder you try, the harder it gets.

‘‘There’s never ever been a lack of ef­fort. These boys are try­ing their best. We’re all try­ing our best.’’

Sam Caird will start his first Waikato game at lock as young Lagh­lan McWhan­nell is pro­moted to the bench.

Sam Christie re­turns at first five-eighth in place of Matty Lans­down, who drops to the bench where reg­u­lar hooker Hame Faiva (an­kle prob­lem) is brack­eted with Sekope Lopeti.

GETTY IM­AGES

Waikato have Zac Guild­ford back from a ham­string in­jury.

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