The Mitre 10 Cup is back and I, for one, am excited.

In my opinion, our provincial game provides the best entertainment.

While there is a wealth of talent on display in Super Rugby, it is so ultra commercialised that, to me, it has lost that feeling of tribal rivalry which you get at a grassroots level. Club rugby still has the tribalism, but the game play itself is of a lower standard.

The Mitre 10 Cup and Farah Palmer Cup are the perfect middle ground between your passionate, grassroots club rugby and the more professional versions of the game such as Super Rugby.

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The Bay of Plenty Steamers kick off their campaign against Taranaki at Rotorua International Stadium tomorrow night. It is the first of four crossover games the Steamers play against Premiership sides in the opening five rounds.

They haven't beaten Taranaki since 2006, but I wouldn't rule out the men in blue and gold just yet.

Last year's Championship campaign was one of Bay of Plenty's more successful seasons in recent times, culminating in one of the most thrilling finals I have witnessed.

Up against Wellington, in Wellington, the Steamers went in as underdogs. They were right in the game at halftime, trailing 20-14.

Both sides produced some scintillating attack in the second half, which ended all tied up at 40-all. Unfortunately, for Steamers fans, the away side ran out of gas in extra time and ended up losing 59-45. But, they showed what they can do against quality opposition and I doubt there are any teams in the competition that can afford to take the Steamers lightly this year.

Bay of Plenty Steamers first five Mike Delany in action against Wellington during last season's Mitre 10 Cup. Photo / File
Bay of Plenty Steamers first five Mike Delany in action against Wellington during last season's Mitre 10 Cup. Photo / File

Another highlight of provincial rugby is the opportunity to see some of the players you've watched turn out for their clubs throughout winter make the step up to the next level.

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For Rotorua fans there are several names that will be familiar.

Rotoiti captain Baden Wardlaw, consistently a dominant force in the Baywide Premier rugby competition, is in the squad. He looks bigger and stronger every time I see him and has spent time in camp with the Chiefs this season. I believe he is more than ready to play his part for the Steamers.

I'm also excited to see Whakarewarewa's Matthew Garland in the squad. Blessed with pure speed and elusiveness, Garland is nothing short of electric and if he gets his chance in the outside backs will certainly be one to watch.

When covering rugby for the paper, the easiest shots for our photographers to get are of players making a break away - because they're in open space. We often get back to the office, after covering a Whakarewarewa game, to find half our photos are of Garland, he spends that much time sprinting clear of opposition defenders.

Whakarewarewa's Matthew Garland makes a break against Ngongotahā. Photo / File
Whakarewarewa's Matthew Garland makes a break against Ngongotahā. Photo / File

Rotorua 19-year-old Kaleb Trask, who plays club rugby for Tauranga Sports, is in the squad as well and appears to be a player destined for great things. The New Zealand Under-20 star is one of three first fives in the Steamers squad, so will have to battle for game time. However, in the pre-season game against Auckland last week he did plenty to suggest he has what it takes. If nothing else, spending a season being mentored by veteran first five Mike Delany will do him wonders in the long-run.

Tomorrow's game against Taranaki at Rotorua International Stadium kicks off at 7.30pm and tickets are available at ticketmaster.co.nz. It will be the main event in a day-long celebration of Baywide rugby as the Toi Ohomai Secondary School finals are being played at the same venue from 10.30am.