A Bay of Plenty Volcanix season which has exceeded all expectations comes to a head in the Farah Palmer Cup Championship final against Otago today.
After a 2016 campaign in which they were unable to register a single win, the Volcanix came into this season better prepared and with greater desire than ever before.
The players and coaching staff have been incessant with their mantra of 'be better than before', constantly seeking improvement, and it has paid off as they finished top of the Championship table to secure a home final in Mount Maunganui.
They started the season with a 10-all draw with Premiership side Auckland, a team who had obliterated them by more than 100 and more than 50 points in the previous two seasons.
The Volcanix proved their opening round result was no fluke when they travelled to Hawke's Bay and won 24-10 in round two. They seemed to get better each week as they went on to beat North Harbour, Tasman and this weekend's final opposition Otago. Their only loss was a 19-17 nailbiter against Waikato away.
However, Volcanix coach Brendon Webby and his side are well aware it all means nothing if they can't do the job in the final.
"This week has been a matter of sharpening up and fine tuning a few things - getting them mentally and physically prepared.
"At the start of training on Tuesday night the one thing I said was, regardless of the outcome, we need to make sure we enjoy this week for what it is. They see it as a really good opportunity to showcase women's rugby and especially women's rugby in the Bay. Definitely the key message has been to just enjoy the week," Webby said.
Bay of Plenty have had two weekends off since securing their place in the final, as they had a bye in the final round of pool play and sat out last week as second and third played off for the other spot in the final.
While the time off allowed players to refresh, it also brought with it the threat of halting the excellent momentum the side had built during the season.
"I think we've addressed [the time off] as a group well. After the Otago game we knew it was coming, so we had plans in place to address it so it wouldn't become an issue. To be honest, I think it has made the ladies that much hungrier. They've had time to think about it and they're really excited to get back into it.
"We've mixed it up the last couple of weeks, they had a yoga session one night, we had a day camp in Rotorua, so we have tried a few things to make sure they didn't go stale and get bored," he said.
Webby wanted to see the Volcanix players enjoy and express themselves in the final.
"I still think there's a little bit of growth left. We've talked about being better than before all season and that doesn't change, we've still talked about that.
"We need to be at our best on the weekend to get a good result, there's no doubt about it, and I don't have any doubt that they will definitely be endeavouring to be their best.
"[Players playing in finals] can let the occasion get to them, but I don't think these girls will. We've done some mental skills with them - how to prepare and get yourself ready. At the end of the day, once we get on the field, it's just another rugby game."
The Bay of Plenty Volcanix side to face Otago Spirit in the Farah Palmer Cup Championship final
Saturday, 12pm at Blake Park, Mt Maunganui
1. Luka Connor (25)
2. Lily Florence (12)
3. Braxton Walker (2)
4. Julia Buescher (6)
5. Kaci James (24) - Co-captain
6. Christie Yule (12) - Co-captain
7. Lesley Elder (2)
8. Sequoia Te Aonui (6)
9. Ora Williams (5)
10. Shaye Whareaorere (11)
11. Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly (17)
12. Tania-Rose Raharuhi (6)
13. Aryahn Clarke (9)
14. Sapphire Tapsell (13)
15. Crystal Mayes (6)
16. Julie Lewis (9)
17. Christine Corbett (3)
18. Makayla Daysh (5)
19. Amanda Aldridge (5)
20. Sarah Kay (2)
21. Kororia Heyblom (1)
22. Zaan Scott (6)
( ) Denotes number of games
Live Streaming on the Black Ferns Facebook Page from 11.45am
Bay of Plenty v Otago Spirit history
Played: 5 (2001-2017). Bay of Plenty wins: 2, Otago wins: 3
Last match: Bay of Plenty 27 Otago 17, October 7 in Dunedin.
Last Otago win: Otago 41 Bay of Plenty 10, September 19, 2015 in Dunedin
Biggest Bay of Plenty score: 27, October 7 in Dunedin
Biggest Otago score: 41, 2015 in Dunedin
Biggest differential: Otago by 33 (38-5), August 23, 2014 in Rotorua