North Harbour's form has been impressive and entertaining at the national hockey league; now all they need to do is win their last two games to cap a memorable week.
Easier said than done, but with a 20 goals for, three against record in the Challenge Shield through their first four matches, Harbour are on a roll. The last three games have produced a 16-0 record, with nine goals coming from former Wellington attacker Daniel Harris (five) and Black Stick Cory Bennett (four).
They will play Southern in the semifinals today, with Auckland, also unbeaten, facing Capital, the winners to meet in tomorrow's final.
Harbour finished third in the 2012 tournament, when coach Dave Kosoof and James Coughlan were teammates. Black Stick Coughlan is relishing the renaissance this year. "We've had a good group of juniors coming through the 18s and 21 for the last couple of years. There's only a few of us older, more experienced players still there. The vibe has been really good and so far it's been our highest performing campaign in the last five years - but it only matters if we're ticking along tomorrow and Sunday." Coughlan is one who'll vouch for the new format for the tournament this year. Instead seven round robin games, then crossovers to complete a draining week, the system mimics international tournament play, with three group games, quarters, semis and finals.
Coughlan says it's a way to help players gain experience in clutch situations. "It doesn't always mean they're the most skilful games you see, but something we need to do is get better at playing the big games, if Rio [Olympics last year] is anything to go by."
The men's Black Sticks gave up a 2-0 lead against Germany conceding three goals in the last four minutes of their quarter-final to bow out; the women lost their semifinal to Britain, then the bronze medal match to the Germans. "You want to win those important games and we don't play enough of them in New Zealand," Coughlan added.
In last night's women's K Cup semifinals, Northland staged a thrilling fightback, scoring two goals through internationals Brooke Neal and Ella Gunson in the last two minutes to topple North Harbour 3-2.
Northland will play Midlands in the final, after a dominant three-goal first half performance set up a 3-1 win over Auckland.