Northland's top men's rugby league team, the Northern Swords, are only two wins away from a shot at promotion after three consecutive wins in three weeks.
The Swords, who beat Bay of Plenty's Coastline Mariners 36-24 on Saturday at the Trigg Sports Arena, are set to play the Wellington Orcas on September 21 to decide who will be crowned the North Island's best team in the New Zealand Rugby League division two competition.
Should Northland prevail in two weeks' time against the men from the capital, they will go on to play the top South Island qualifiers, the Otago Whalers, to decide who will play in a promotion/relegation game against the bottom team in division one, which consisted of four teams from Canterbury, Auckland, Waikato and Counties Manukau.
A shot at promotion would be a huge marker for any team but for the Swords, there will be some expectation to qualify for that promotion game after they reached that stage last year, only to lose to Waikato.
However, with an influx of players and some young talent this year, results had been favourable for the boys in blue, who toppled the Taranaki Sharks and the Manawatū Mustangs in the weeks prior to the win over the Mariners.
The Swords played the Sharks in their opening match at Semenoff Stadium on August 24 and blitzed the visitors 56-10.
The Northlanders then faced the nine-hour drive down to Palmerston North's Fitzherbert Park, where they took on the Mustangs on August 31 in an entertaining contest. Down 20-6 at halftime, the visitors made an almighty comeback to win 24-20.
Saturday's game against the Mariners started well for the home side, who at one stage were leading by about 20 points, before a few soft tries in the second half almost let the visitors steal the win.
Fortunately, the Swords were able to close out the game and would now use a bye weekend to prepare for their trip south to face Wellington.
"We had a good start against Taranaki and it was a bit of a score against them, which was good for the start of the campaign," Swords co-captain Daley Johnson said.
Johnson, who didn't play against Manawatū, was glad the boys showed some real heart in the second half of the away game, but he acknowledged it was disappointing to let in some soft tries against the Mariners.
"We had a lot of momentum but we made a few silly errors and let them back into the game, but I'm happy with result."
After a relatively poor club season in Northland this year, Johnson was pleased to see the team's player base grow. Johnson said numbers at training had doubled from last year to about 22 players at each training session this season.
"It makes trainings more enjoyable and competitive, last year if you turned up to training you were going to get the jersey, but there's a lot of competition for spots now, which is good."
The first hurdle Northland would have to conquer ahead of the Wellington game would be the travel. Due to lack of funding, the team would likely have to make the 10-hour trip in vans, probably the day before the game. This would mean taking time off work on the Friday and finding accommodation.
Despite the barriers in front of the team, Johnson said a big defensive effort would be required if they were to get past a strong Wellington forward pack. With the shot at playing two promotion games in two years, Johnson said the team's stalwarts were committed to giving their all out on the park.
"It would mean a lot to us, a few of the older boys won't be around for much longer so if we can put Northland in the top divison, it might create a bit more of a pathway for younger players coming through."