Bulls ready for opening match at Pukekura Park

Taranaki played Hawke's Bay at Pukekura Park last year in a game that had an awesome atmosphere.  (file photo)


Taranaki played Hawke’s Bay at Pukekura Park last year in a game that had an awesome atmosphere. (file photo)

It’s a case of rinse and repeat for the Taranaki Bulls ahead of their opening home match at Pukekura Park on Sunday.

Taranaki will host Northland in the opening round of the Bunnings National Provincial Championship at the famous cricket ground.

It’s the first of two matches scheduled at Pukekura Park this year with the nearby Yarrow Stadium not ready until September 3 when Taranaki play Waikato.

When the Bulls played at Pukekura Park last year, it was the first provincial match the venue in 76 years. Taranaki beat Hawke’s Bay in front of a sellout crowd of just over 4500 to kick-start their championship winning season.

* Construction delays hamper roof work at $70m Yarrow Stadium project, no covered seating for Bulls games

Taranaki Rugby commercial manager Jimmy Fastier said last year’s match had an “electric atmosphere on the terraces”.

“We have maintained much of the same framework from last year’s event,” he said.

“Portaloos, food trucks, bars, coach boxes and marquees will all be brought on site.”

He said the hype around Pukekura Park has meant ticket sales have been strong with their membership base up to 1500 and continuing to grow heading into the weekend.

“The weather forecast is looking better and better for Sunday. We expect a few hundred public tickets to get snapped up in the next few days.”

On the field, the goalposts used last year will be reinstalled, which date back to the 1930s. They are shorter compared to most club grounds but adds to the character of the venue.

With a wet forecast, questions will be asked about how the field will hold up and if it will recover for the second match on Saturday, August 20 against Canterbury.

Meanwhile, Taranaki captain Mitch Brown will return to the side.

The Chiefs representative hasn’t played for Taranaki since week five of last year’s competition, when Taranaki beat Otago in Dunedin.

Clifton wing Josh Setu will make his debut named to start on the wing. The former Taranaki under 19 player featured in the top three try-scorers during the CMK club season.

New Plymouth Old Boys prop Mitch O’Neill, younger brother of 50-capped Taranaki rep Reuben, will also earn his first cap if he comes off the bench.

After missing the club final and last week’s pre-season match against Wellington because of injury, first-five eighth Jayson Potroz will earn a start.

Matt McKenzie is at fullback in place of Stephen Perofeta, his first game since playing Auckland in 2019. Reserve back Brayton Northcott-Hill is included. His last match was the 2020 semi-final where Taranaki were thrashed by Hawke’s Bay.

All Black Pita Gus Sowakula will come off the bench.

Kick off is at 2:05pm.

Taranaki Bulls: Matt McKenzie, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Daniel Rona, Daniel Waite, Josh Setu*, Jayson Potroz, Logan Crowley, Kaylum Boshier, Tom Florence, Mitch Brown (C), Scott Jury, Jesse Parete, Donald Brighouse, Bradley Slater, Jared Profitt . Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli, Mitch O’Neill*, Kyle Stewart, Hemopo Cunningham, Pita Gus Sowakula, Liam Blyde, Josh Jacomb, Brayton Northcott-Hill (*Debut)

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