The 2018 Mitre 10 Cup draw was released by New Zealand Rugby today.

Bay of Plenty Steamers start their campaign in the second-tier Championship against Taranaki at Rotorua International Stadium on August 18. It is one of three games scheduled for Rotorua along with Waikato on September 21 and Manawatu on September 27.

Tauranga Domain will host two games — Canterbury on September 1 and Northland on October 13.

Canterbury, Taranaki, Counties Manukau and North Harbour are the four matches against Premiership teams.

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The Mitre 10 Cup kicks off on August 16 with North Harbour hosting neighbours Northland, while a repeat of the 2017 Premiership final between Canterbury and Tasman is the following night.

The 12 Heartland unions kick into action a week later with teams vying for the Meads and Lochore Cups.

Bay of Plenty Rugby Union chief executive Mike Rogers says the union is excited for the season to kick off in August.

"We have some great home games this year that we think will provide the opportunity for our community to get along and support their team. The Saturday and Friday night games against Taranaki and Waikato in Rotorua should be great nights, and having Saturday afternoon games at the Tauranga Domain versus Canterbury and Northland are sure to be very popular, based on last year's experience," he says.

New Zealand Rugby head of provincial union rugby Steve Lancaster says the announcement of these draws signals the official build-up to another exciting season of provincial rivalry.

"We see it every year, these competitions highlight incredible talent and produce great rugby. Last year, Asafo Aumua went from playing for the Wellington Lions, to making his All Blacks debut only weeks later. Examples like that demonstrate the quality of the Mitre 10 Cup competition.

"The Mitre 10 Heartland Championship is a competition that always gets great community support and the teams deliver with passionate, hard-fought matches. Canterbury and Wanganui have set the standards in both competitions in recent years but, as we saw last year, there are plenty of teams capable of getting that silverware."

The competition plays across nine weeks with every team playing one Wednesday night fixture in a double-up round where they play twice that week.

The semifinals will be played on October 19 and 20, with the Mitre 10 Cup Championship Final to be played on October 26 and the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership Final on October 27.

The Ranfurly Shield was booked away for the summer by Taranaki after their dramatic win over Canterbury. This season they will face stiff challenges from Manawatu, Waikato, Auckland, North Harbour and Wellington.

Bay of Plenty draw 2018:
August 18 v Taranaki, Rotorua
August 23 v Counties Manukau, Pukekohe
September 1 v Canterbury, Tauranga
September 8 v Hawke's Bay, Napier
September 16 v North Harbour, Albany
September 21 v Waikato, Rotorua
September 27 v Manawatu, Rotorua
October 3 v Northland, Tauranga

Full draw: www.allblacks.com.