Whoever picked Northland's opposition for next year's crossover matches in the Mitre 10 Cup needs to have his fingernails clipped right back.

This isn't an attempt to suggest this year's Championship semifinalists are fragile or vulnerable, but an acknowledgement that the likes of Canterbury, Auckland, Tasman and Wellington the Taniwha will face in 2019 makes for an intrepid journey they may not have faced in a long time.

Representatives from the 14 Mitre 10 Cup provincial unions recently met to pick their opposition for crossover matches but the full draws for both the Premiership and Championship is still being worked on.

Northland will host defending Premiership winners Auckland and runner-up Canterbury and travel to the capital to play Wellington and Nelson to face Tasman - two more Premiership teams.

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The crossover games may not be in that order since draws haven't been finalised.

It means though that nearly half of the Taniwha's round robin games will be against four strong premiership teams — a punishing schedule that will take them to their limits but not one that's insurmountable.

After all, they were made to navigate three tough opening matches this year against North Harbour, Auckland and Taranaki — all premiership teams — for one win, although Northland feel they should have won in Albany.

Other championship teams will face a similar challenge playing crossover matches next season and should they take a few scalps on the way, the competition will feel like one of those old-school heavyweight bouts between Ali and Foreman.

That's what will put bums on seats too.

The form of first five Jack Debreczeni will be crucial for Northland in next year's Mitre 10 Cup crossover matches. Photo/John Stone
The form of first five Jack Debreczeni will be crucial for Northland in next year's Mitre 10 Cup crossover matches. Photo/John Stone

Northland won three of five home games this year and perhaps none was better carved from a wild match of savage-like intensity in front of a wild crowd at Okara Park who all jumped aboard for a ride than the first victory of the season against Taranaki.

The Taranaki Bulls were hassled and harried by a home team as composed and clinical as they were physical and powerful. The body shots were shuddering, the commitment absolute on both sides from first to last.

To be able to successfully put away teams week in, week out in 2019 will give the men in Cambridge blue some assurance they have the psychological strength and physical resilience they will need to play in the semis three years on the trot.

All of which means Northland will need their senior players to be a driving and inspirational force on and off the field.

More specifically, Jack Debreczeni, Rene Ranger, Murray Douglas and Matt Wright will need to be at their best and leading others with the quality and consistency of their performances.

Debreczeni has been in outstanding form in his first year— so much so that he forced his way into the Chiefs side for the new Super Rugby season.

He's signed a two-year contract to play for Northland so will be back in 2019.

Ranger is off to Japan next month on a one-year deal and may not be back in time for the Mitre 10 Cup but if he does, there's none better to decide big games than by his individual brilliance, trickery and magical offloads.

Scott Gregory is playing 7s for New Zealand and that should put him in good stead once he returns to Northland and switches back to 15s while other Taniwha players with Super Rugby contracts won't need too much schooling.

Northland mentor Derren Witcombe has received wide plaudits for the way he has moulded the Taniwha as a formidable unit and he will no doubt look to further improve on their current form.

The former All Blacks hooker has been appointed NZ U20 assistant coach for the 2019 campaign.