One of the Bay of Plenty's iconic rugby events will crown its 78th champion on Sunday.
The Tai Mitchell tournament enters its final phase on Thursday as 10 sub union under-13 teams battle for the Tai Mitchell Shield. The tournament is a favourite among players, parents and organisers and has reputation for connecting generations in a showcase of grassroots sport.
The tournament is split into two pools and the first two rounds have been played at Te Teko over the past two Sundays. Games will take place at Kawerau's Tarawera Park from Thursday for four days before the tournament concludes with the final on Sunday.
Te Puke have dominated the past two tournaments to go unbeaten and claim consecutive championships, but were beaten 28-19 by Tauranga West in the opening round of this year's competition.
Te Puke coach Aaron Sutherland says the team has five boys from last year's winning team.
"We always try and have Year 7 boys involved. We are looking good, they have been training well. All the boys need to be on the same page and buy into the philosophy and the system. They all buy in and work hard towards the goal.
"Te Puke takes a lot of pride in their rugby. There is a lot of pride in representing the sub union and if they have had previous generations do that there is a lot of interest."
The loss to Tauranga was in appalling conditions as rain battered Te Teko two weeks ago.
"We talked about how you don't win a tournament in game one. There was lots of learning in playing in wet conditions."
Rotorua Maroon have made an unbeaten start to the competition, beating Ōpōtiki 78-0 and Galatea 69-5 to top the table.
Rotorua Maroon manager Rawiri Wihapi says he and coach Para Meha have been with the team since 2012 and says it is a special tournament.
"I think it is just what we have embedded having been in the game for a while. We have gone to a different system in using our forwards and using both sides of the field. We have designated pods for either side. Our goal is to make the top four and I want to see them stick to the structure of the game plans."
Tauranga West's upset of Te Puke hinted at a closely contested end to the tournament and Bay of Plenty Primary School Rugby president Seamus Collins is looking forward to the conclusion.
"The special nature of the event, while a rugby tournament, it is open to any student regardless of what sport they play. It really is a festival atmosphere and there are between 230 and 250 kids there for the love of the game.
"Some teams are doing it hard, results are not going their way, but they just turn up with smiles on their faces. They are just happy to represent their sub union," Collins says.
"It is sort of intangible, there is a lot of family history with Tai Mitchell. Their uncles, dads and granddads have played so there is a real generational thing. The boys grow up knowing to represent the sub union is a mark for respect."
Tai Mitchell points table after two rounds:
1: Rotorua Maroon - 10
2: Tauranga West -10
3: Rangitaiki - 9
4: Te Puke - 5
5: Tauranga North - 5
6: Tauranga East - 5
7: Rotorua Gold - 5
8: Whakatāne - 0
9: Galatea - 0
10: Ōpōtiki - 0
Draw for round three, Thursday July 4:
Tarawera Park, Kawerau
12pm: Te Puke v Rangitaiki
12:30pm: Tauranga East v Ōpōtiki
1:15pm: Tauranga North v Galatea
1:45pm: Rotorua Maroon v Tauranga West
2:30pm: Rotorua Gold v Whakatāne