World champion Mahe Drysdale comfortably won his single sculls semifinal but the fastest time went to a young Southlander at Lake Karapiro yesterday.
Invercargill's Nathan Cohen, a two-time junior world championships silver medallist, was the fastest qualifier and predicted an even final tomorrow.
"Mahe will be the one to beat but all six of us in the final have got a pretty good chance at the medals," Cohen said.
Drysdale beat Storm Uru, ranked third in the world at under-23 level.
Uru saw the final as a four-way tussle with Drysdale, Cohen and Canadian Kevin Light who raced in the 2004 Athens Olympics in his country's eight.
"I want to be on the podium," Uru said.
Dunedin's Hamish Bond has withdrawn from the men's singles final to focus on the men's pair event with Carl Meyer.
Bond was confident about their chances in tomorrow's final, with the main competition coming from world champion George Bridgewater rowing with Matthew Trott, and Sydney Olympian Rob Hellstrom teamed with Sean O'Neill.
"They don't know what we can do yet. We're going to come in the back door," he said.
In the women's single sculls semifinals, both winners recorded the same finishing time with American Michelle Guerette matched defending champion Caroline Evers-Swindell.
Guerette is ranked third in the world in the single and in her semifinal she beat New Zealand's junior world champion Emma Twigg, reversing the placings from last week's North Island championships.
This improvement could put Evers-Swindell under pressure as she is contesting five finals - four tomorrow.
Evers-Swindell admitted that out of her five races it was hard to pick the toughest event. "I couldn't say really. The four and the single will be tough and I don't know what to expect in the double but expectations are high on us in that event."
Finals today include the men's coxed four featuring Halberg award team winners Nathan Twaddle and Bridgewater in opposing teams.
The men's double sees Drysdale and partner Simon Lack taking on brothers Storm and Jade Uru, while the women's four will see world champions Nicky Coles and Juliette Haigh up against Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell.