The North Harbour premier First XV scene is again shaping as a three-horse race.
Defending champion Westlake Boys' High School, with a new head coach in Valie Bakkerus, but an established history and a perennially strong squad, has the bye, but is coming off a mixed pre-season where it undertook a successful trip to Christchurch for a schools rugby festival, but also had two sobering losses to Auckland 1A schools, St Peter's and Mt Albert Grammar.
Rosmini College, beaten finalist every year since 2010, is hoping to go one better but it will need to get past its rival from just up the road, while Woodhouse Shield holder Massey High School will undoubtedly be keen to push on and upset the Takapuna duopoly.
Rangitoto College and Takapuna Grammar School will essentially be vying for the fourth semifinal berth, and they clash today, with competition from Orewa and Birkenhead Colleges. There are just seven sides in the top echelon in 2014, as Northcote College opted out due to what it felt was a lack of resources.
Westlake BHS and Massey HS meet on May 23 in a televised Super Rugby curtainraiser at QBE (North Harbour) Stadium.
*Four Counties Manukau schools will again contest the Chiefs Cup and second tier Chiefs Trophy, which also kicks off today.
In the Chiefs Cup, Counties Manukau champion Wesley College is in Pool A, while runner-up and 2013 national co-ed finalist Manurewa High School lines up in Pool B. Other top-ranked schools in Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Thames Valley and King Country will do battle, though defending champion Hamilton Boys' High School, fresh off its triumph in the Sanix world youth tournament last week, will not play its first game until Tuesday, hosting Cambridge High School.
Pukekohe High School, with a new squad and head coach in Michael Abraham, is aiming to lift the Chiefs Trophy this season and win back a place in the top two schools in the union to win promotion to the Chiefs Cup. Pukekohe was fourth in Counties Manukau last season, behind Rosehill College, alma mater of Kieran Read. Pukekohe today travels to Hamilton BHS to face that school's Second XV, while Rosehill travels to Otorohanga College.
The competition runs for three weeks before pool winners meet in finals on May 31.
The Counties Manukau premier competition, in which there are eight sides, including James Cook High School, Alfriston College, Waiuku College and Wesley Second XV, will start next month.