Canterbury are in pole position but Northern Districts will have a say in their bid to defend the Plunket Shield title when the final round of matches begins today.
Canterbury moved to the top with their 28-run win over Auckland last week, while ND had to settle for two first-innings points in a runfest against Otago at Seddon Park.
The upshot is the teams meet at Rangiora with Canterbury holding a four-point cushion over Central Districts and ND, with CD having the superior run rate.
CD's runaway lead at the break in the first-class programme after three rounds has disappeared.
Adding an extra layer of intrigue to the final round are Wellington, ordinary for much of the campaign but who have gathered points late in the season to sit fourth, six points behind Canterbury.
Only Otago, who host Wellington today, and Auckland are out of the frame altogether.
ND are without regular captain James Marshall, who is getting married later in the week.
They have lost useful medium pacer James Baker but have made one bold selection, young offspinner Joe Walker, a national under 19 squad member and who picked up 10 for 90 to help Hamilton beat Marlborough and lift the Hawke Cup last month.
ND coach Grant Bradburn confirmed Walker will be in the final XI today as ND chase an outright win.
"The good thing is the task is clear, but I wouldn't say it's simple," Bradburn said yesterday. "If we get 20 wickets and the outright we have every chance of taking the title."
He rates Canterbury a solid all-round unit with experience dotted throughout the side and isn't under-estimating the challenge.
He also knows CD would pip both of them if they beat Auckland in Napier and Rangiora hosts a draw.
Last season ND scored over 700 runs at Rangiora. The game produced 1369 runs and just 15 wickets, with five hundred and two nineties.
CD have rushed regular captain Jamie How back in to play Auckland, fresh from returning from the World Cup.
Auckland have seamer Daryl Tuffey back from a quick trip to join the World Cup as a replacement for Hamish Bennett, and offspinner Bhupinder Singh returns to the 13, with Gareth Shaw dropping out.
This first-class campaign can't end soon enough for Auckland who, after winning both limited-overs titles, have had a wretched time of it in the four-day programme.
Points with one round left: Canterbury 33, CD 29, ND 29, Wellington 27, Otago 22, Auckland 8.By David Leggat Email David