Steelers hoping for a flying start in Mitre 10 Cup

By James Perry

Rugby's Mitre 10 Cup kicks off tonight on the North Shore, and Counties Manukau Steelers are putting final preparations in place for their first game on Saturday. 

Counties Manukau face neighbours, Auckland, at Eden Park on Saturday.

Steelers coach Darryl Suasua welcomes back some of his super rugby players who have missed a large part of the pre-season with injuries or recovery time.

He is expecting Auckland to be in a similar position. 

"They get a lot of players back from Super Rugby, and they've got to blend them all in over the first few weeks," he says.

The South Auckland-based side beat Auckland last year in the opening round of the Mitre 10 Cup competition and captain Sam Henwood is expecting Auckland to be out for redemption.

"There's nothing better than towelling those fellas up," he says before adding that his side will be hoping to repeat the effort this weekend and "get [the season] off to a good start."

Henwood, and lock forward Matiaha Martin have both returned to the Steelers squad after playing super rugby with the Hurricanes and Blues respectively.

Henwood says that he's hoping to bring back some new defensive techniques he learned while in Wellington. He also says he learned a lot about leadership from the franchise that boasts multiple super rugby centurions. 

"if you lead by example the boys will follow, it's that sort of mantra at the Hurricanes."

Martin, who was a mid-season injury replacement for the Tana Umaga-coached Auckland side, says he learned how to communicate effectively with a squad he says contains some players who have only just left high school.  Being able to assist the development of those players, and pass on the knowledge and experience he's gained is important.

Being a part of the Blues setup means Martin has got to know some of the Auckland Mitre 10 Cup squad.

He says while he was in the Blues squad there was a bit of banter between teammates so he can't wait to get stuck in to the Auckland squad in round 1. 

Auckland are traditionally seen as the "big brother" of Counties Manukau, but Martin says they're out to take that mantle away.

The Steelers narrowly missed the semifinals by 5 points last season, a good start this weekend might see them believe they can return once again to finals football.