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PREVIEW: Rebels v Chiefs

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Thursday, March 16, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

ROUND 4: Rebels v Chiefs, 9.45pm Friday 17 March, AAMI Stadium, Melbourne.

TALE OF THE TAPE
The Rebels have come off the bye weekend having suffered losses to the Blues (18-56) in their opening game in Melbourne and to the Hurricanes (6-71) in Wellington. It is the second time the Rebels have played three New Zealand teams in succession and they will be recounting their 16-15 win in Melbourne the only Rebels success in their five games against the Chiefs. By comparison, the Chiefs are coming off three wins, all against New Zealand sides. They opened against the Highlanders (24-15), beat the Blues (41-26) and beat the Hurricanes (26-18).

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

The Chiefs have taken the chance to give first five-eighths Aaron Cruden a break, as his workload will surely intensify as the season advances which has created the chance for Damian McKenzie to start in his preferred position. Even more importantly it has created the opportunity for Shaun Stevenson to start at fullback and that could be the more decisive move because he certainly looked the goods for the side during the Brisbane 10s. Northland wing Solomon Alaimalo will have his first start at this level and in the front row, the fairy tale of the season to date, emergency hooker Sabastian Siataga will have his first start.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
The Rebels will be looking a little more experienced. New Zealand-based lock Culum Retallick returns to the side with Lopeti Timani suffering a knee injury. Wing Seva Naivalu had an infection in his leg during the first two rounds so will get the chance to pair up with long-time friend Marika Koroibete in providing thrust on the flanks. Prop Laurie Weeks also returns from injury which should provide some much needed scrum experience while Mitch Inman's absence after a head knock sees Tom English back in the midfield.

LOOSIES TO BURN

For a side that has had its fair share of injury worries over the years, the Chiefs must be revelling in the state of their loose forward resources so far this season. Losing No8 Michael Leitch would be a major blow to most sides, but the Chiefs have whistled up Liam Messam while allowing Tom Sanders to move to the blindside flank for his first appearance for the year. Given the impact that he made last season it is a surprise that it has taken Sanders this long to appear. With the ability to call on Mitch Karpik, Mitchell Brown and Lachlan Boshier the Chiefs certainly have a very healthy state of affairs in the loose forward department.

TEAMS

Rebels: 1.Fereti Sa'aga, 2.James Hanson, 3.Laurie Weeks, 4.Culum Retallick, 5.Steve Cummins, 6.Jordy Reid, 7.Colby Fainga'a, 8.Amanaki Mafi, 9.Niz Stirzaker (captain), 10.Jackson Garden-Bachop, 11.Marika Koroibete, 12.Reece Hodge, 13.Tom English, 14.Sefa Naivalu, 15.Jack Debreczeni.

Substitutes: 16.Pat Leafa, 17.Cruze Ah-Nau, 18.Tyrel Lomax, 19.Murray Douglas, 20.Jake Schatz, 21.Ben Meehan, 22.Sione Tuipulotu, 23.Ben Volavola.

Chiefs: 1.Kane Hames, 2.Sabastian Siataga, 3.Nepo Laulala, 4.Dominic Bird, 5.Brodie Retallick, 6.Tom Sanders, 7.Sam Cane (captain), 8.Liam Messam, 9.Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 10.Damian McKenzie, 11.Solomon Alaimalo, 12.Stephen Donald, 13.Anton Lienert-Brown, 14.Toni Pulu, 15.Shaun Stevenson.

Substitutes: 16.Hika Elliot, 17.Siegfried Fisi'ohoi, 18.Atu Moli, 19.Mitchell Brown, 20.Mitchell Karpik, 21.Finlay Christie, 22.Aaron Cruden, 23.Johnny Faauli.