Tauranga teams are in must-win mode as the scramble for Waikato Rugby League competition playoff spots begins.
There are three weeks remaining in the competition and the Pāpāmoa Bulldogs and the Ōtūmoetai Eels are well set for a play-off push, but the tight table means every game counts.
The Bulldogs have a demanding fixture tomorrow when they travel to play unbeaten competition leaders Taniwharau while the Eels will host Turangawaewae.
The Bulldogs have a tough run in, starting with Taniwharau, a bye next week and then College Old Boys in the final round. The Bulldogs are level on points with College Old Boys in third place. The Eels sit in sixth place, just a point behind Turangawaewae and have second-placed Ngaruawahia and the win-less Hamilton Hornets remaining on their schedule.
Bulldogs coach Jock Nicholson says his side is working hard ahead of tomorrow's crucial fixture.
"Our challenge has been playing week in week out. Taniwharau are the benchmark and we will be tested even more so up there, but we have trained well. To beat the best you have to keep playing against the best. We know it is a mammoth task, but it is all on the day," Nicholson says.
"We will need to hold the ball and sap the energy out of the big players. Taniwharau are a very classy side, they are a side that will crucify you if you continue to make mistakes. I just want to focus on our game, making sure every player is at their best and that we play as a team. If we can starve them of the ball and attacking opportunities, we are in the hunt."
The Bulldogs have three wins and three losses this season, their first at this level, and Nicholson wants to see his side continue to improve.
"If you want to play semi-final football you have to keep building towards that. Our last month of football hasn't been too bad and we have learned a lot. The guys have stepped up to that next level. It is all the one percents – it could be the nutrition or how they prepare mentally. It is making sure there is a lot of that preparation outside of training.
"We still have plenty of work to do, I would like to be sitting in first spot, but you can't just talk about it, you have to experience it. To be a future championship side, you have to play in things like semi-finals and learn from them."
Eels coach Grant Sundborn also realises the importance of the next few weeks.
"We don't want to drop any games, if we win two we would be relying on other results, which we don't want to do," Sundborn says.
"Things are starting to come right in terms of respecting the pill. It is key is completing our sets and not letting the opposition have the ball. Coming out of our red zone, I am not concerned how many metres we make, just that we get to that fifth tackle. If they don't have the ball they can't score. It is all about momentum, you get a roll on and get a good feel among the boys."
"I won't change how much time I spend talking to them, I leave the team by themselves for the last five minutes. They can get themselves up for the game."
Waikato Rugby League draw for tomorrow:
Ōtūmoetai Eels v Turangawaewae, Mitchell Park.
Taniwharau v Pāpāmoa Bulldogs, Huntly.
Ngaruawahia Panthers v College Old Boys, Ngaruawahia .
Hukanui v Hamilton Hornets, Hamilton.
Hamilton City Tigers, Hamilton.
Ngaruawahia Panthers 13.
College Old Boys 12.
Pāpāmoa Bulldogs 12.
Ōtūmoetai Eels 10.
Hamilton City Tigers 10.
Hamilton Hornets 5.