Canterbury have won the past four ITM Cup titles and after an adrenaline-fuelled thrashing of Taranaki in Christchurch few would bet against them winning another when they face Auckland this weekend.
The red and blacks were given an almighty scare in their semifinal clash with Taranaki yesterday afternoon. The score was locked at 27-27 on fulltime, despite Canterbury playing with a strong wind in the second half, but they powered home in extra-time to win 51-27 to book their entry for the main event.
Auckland didn't make it easy on themselves but followed suit thanks to a 33-22 victory on the road against Wellington last night.
The Aucklanders' bid to claim their first provincial crown since 2007 will be a difficult one in Christchurch next Saturday night. Coach Wayne Pivac said his side would expect a defensive-minded affair against a Canterbury side who have peaked at the right time of the season.
"They use the ball well, they use a lot of width," Pivac said.
"They create midfield rucks and then split either side and they outflank you if you don't get your numbers right. So defence is going to be key to the game next week, most definitely."
The contest will also hold special significance for Auckland skipper Daniel Braid, who will play his 100th game for his province.
Braid hinted after his side's semifinal victory over Wellington that this weekend's final could be his last game for Auckland and a win would be a fitting way for the 31-year-old flanker to depart.
In the Championship final, Counties will host Otago in Pukekohe on Friday night after the South Auckland side hammered a gallant Southland 48-23 in their semifinal yesterday.
Meanwhile, Otago made their way to the final of the Championship - with the winner to play in the Premiership next year - following a 41-34 triumph over Tasman in Dunedin on Friday night.
Both sides will each have a former All Black in the coaches' box with Tana Umaga now at the helm of Counties, while 18-test five-eighth Tony Brown has enjoyed a successful first year in charge of Otago.
Seven All Blacks have been made available for their provinces if required this finals weekend. Canterbury can call upon props Wyatt Crockett and Ben Franks, while Auckland could have the services of Piri Weepu and Charlie Faumuina, while Otago can select Ben Smith, Tamati Ellison and Adam Thomson.
In the Heartland Championship, East Coast will host Wanganui in the final of the Meads Cup in Ruatoria on Saturday afternoon.
East Coast paved their way to final with a 26-15 victory over North Otago yesterday, while Wanganui beat Wairarapa Bush 23-20 at Cooks Gardens in their final-four outing.
The Lochore Cup final will be contested by South Island sides Buller and South Canterbury in Westport on Sunday afternoon.
Buller cruised in to the final with a commanding 42-22 win over Poverty Bay in their semifinal in Westport yesterday, while South Canterbury knocked over their neighbours Mid Canterbury 48-20 in Timaru.
- APNZBy Daniel Richardson @danrichardson21 Email Daniel