Auckland's premier club rugby competition kicks into gear today with the first round Alan McEvoy Memorial Trophy in which Papatoetoe is the defending champion.
The South Aucklanders are coming off a resurgent 2011 and now have no less than three pieces of silverware locked away in their cabinet. The other two trophies are the Sir Fred Allen Challenge Cup, competed for in all home competition matches, and the Waka Nathan Cup for pre-season play, won 23-17 last Saturday in the final against Pakuranga.
But Papatoetoe will not be satisfied. This young team, full of potential, will be gunning for the big one, the Gallaher Shield, held by Ponsonby since 2004. Former Canterbury and Crusaders hooker Steve Fualau is one of the new Papatoetoe recruits, while former skipper and lock Sika Poching has retired. The side is otherwise very settled from 2011, and will build much of its play around prolific tryscorers No 8 and captain Ben Masoe and wing Tenina Sauileoge.
Ponies have had several changes to the squad for 2012 and have started the season in rusty fashion but few can doubt their credentials at the business end of the year.
If they win a ninth Gallaher, that will set a new national premier club mark.
Pakuranga will contend again, especially with a speedy backline bolstered by former All Blacks midfielder Pita Alatini, back from a long stint in Japan, while first five Tony Fenner is back from an ill-fated stint in Otago. One-test Argentine hooker Tomas Baravalle is also in the squad.
Assuming the coaching reins is Paul Feeney, who will follow in the footsteps of Shane Howarth in 2004 by guiding a club side and then assisting with Auckland.
Last season's beaten semifinalist University should again be there or thereabouts. The students have no less than nine players in the NZ Universities side.
The 2011 losing finalist Grammar Carlton has a new coach in Richie Harris, the former Tamaki College First XV mentor, and wants its first Gallaher Shield since 1972.
Te Papapa-Mt Wellington also has a new coach in John Faamausili and has apparently secured the services of Piri Weepu, should he ever be available from Blues duties.
In the major match-ups today, Papatoetoe again face Pakuranga, but this time at the latter's home ground, there is a juicy western derby between Waitakere City and Suburbs, while College Rifles host University on their artificial turf.
Waitemata lock Rory Lord runs out for his 150th premier match for the club against Manukau Rovers. Marist and Ponies do battle for the Tom Johns Memorial Trophy.
All premier games throughout 2012 will kick off at 2.45pm.