Competition leaders Northern Districts have one hand on the trophy after the first day's play in the final round of the Plunket Shield yesterday.
Going into their 10th and final matches, Auckland and Wellington had slim hopes of overhauling the Knights atop the standings, but those hopes are even more minute after a strong Northern bowling effort in their match against Central Districts in Napier.
The Knights needed just six points to seal top spot, and they are almost there after day one. Northern's bowlers picked up all four bonus points on offer in dismissing the hosts 342, leaving the Knights with just two left to claim.
Their batsmen can take care of that today if they accumulate 300 before the 110th over, something which would render irrelevant the final two days of this match, as well as the remainder of the other two taking place.
Despite two centuries and three 100-run partnerships from the Stags, they lost regular wickets with only three batsmen scoring more than 10.
Carl Cachopa compiled 111 batting at No 3, but his stay was ended by discarded Black Cap Brent Arnel.
Matt Sinclair made 66 before falling to another unwanted New Zealand quick, Trent Boult, while Kieran Noema-Barnett ended the innings unbeaten on 105.
Graeme Aldridge was the best of the ND bowlers with 4-74, while Boult picked up three wickets and Arnel two.
The Knights' success left Auckland needing something of a miracle to rise from their second place to claim the prize. Only a huge helping hand from Central Districts _ first to restrict Northern to fewer than 300 in the first innings, then to win or draw the match _ will give Auckland a chance.
And for that chance to come to fruition Auckland will still need to acquire all 20 available points, something which they made a good start toward achieving on the first day against Canterbury.
Auckland reached 372-5 at stumps against Canterbury, requiring a further 28 runs in 13 overs tomorrow morning to pick up full allotment of batting bonus points. That was thanks to half centuries from opener Tim McIntosh (54), Anaru Kicthen (76), captain Gareth Hopkins (70) and Colin de Grandhomme (81no).
Andrew Ellis was the only Canterbury bowler to enjoy any success, taking 4-96.
In Dunedin, Wellington's faint hopes of claiming the title were quickly extinguished thanks to Neil Wagner.
The South African-born quick, who becomes eligible for New Zealand within the fortnight, gave national selectors another reminder of his abilities by taking 7-46 in bowling out the hosts for 112.
Wellington needed a big win to have any chance of pipping the Knights, but that outcome was all but ruled out early in proceedings when Wagner reduced them to 16-3. The seamer returned to pick up the last four wickets to record his best career first class figures.
In reply, Otago quickly overhauled the visitors' total and went to stumps holding a lead of 83 on 195-2, with 22-year-old opener Hamish Rutherford unbeaten on 101.
- APNZBy Kris Shannon Email Kris