Nervous Northland rugby administrators are hoping their half-hour presentation to the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) tomorrow will reinforce their status as a first division province when they front a provincial rugby panel in Wellington.
A four-man Northland delegation consisting Northland rugby chief executive Tim Hamilton, chairman Shayne Heape and board members Sid Going and Wayne Peters fly to Wellington tomorrow to argue Northland's case for inclusion in a new fully professional first division provincial competition starting next year.
But feelings are mixed about the importance of tomorrow's presentation, especially after a last week's NZRU annual meeting which several provincial delegates said was haunted by a guileful atmosphere.
For some provincial unions who applied for the premier professional competition to replace the existing NPC in 2006, it was their last opportunity to petition the NZRU big-wigs for a coveted premier spot.
Many contacted by the Northern Advocate said there was a sense of unease that pervaded the annual meeting and some intriguing reactions from provincial administrators, with the competitions review the main theme up for discussion.
Not every province bidding for a premier spot is making a presentation to the written submissions already tabled, and there is no indication as to how much any verbal argument will influence the final decision.
The NZRU decision as to who will be included in the new fully professional competition and who will be overlooked is not due until the end of May, maybe earlier, which left many delegates pensive at the annual meeting in Wellington last week.
But NRU chief executive Tim Hamilton said Northland's delegation at their annual meeting had deliberately taken a relaxed approach to the topic while at the annual meeting, but had come back to Whangarei and worked hard to make sure tomorrow's presentation was professional and informative.
"There was a an element of unease at the annual meeting because of what is going on, but we kept our heads high and concentrated on what we were there for," Hamilton said.
"But I am working on the presentation now and making sure we are within the requirements of what was given to us by the panel. Yes, I feel a bit of pressure. Yes, I am nervous. But really my frame of mind is completely focussed on the task at hand," he said.
"Right now I am really looking forward to Wednesday, when we have finished our presentation."
Fourteen unions have applied for the professional premier competition starting next year which could consist of up to 12 teams, with a modified amateur 15-team first division also created.
The unions likely to miss out on the top tier will probably come from Counties-Manukau, Manawatu, Hawke's Bay, or an amalgamated bid from Nelson-Marlborough. But first division outfits Northland and Southland will also be feeling the heat ahead of the announcement which was originally due on May 27, but NZRU chief executive Chris Moller says is now due "during May".
NZRU chairman Jock Hobbs conceded some unions would be upset when the competition was finally approved.
"That's probably a fair assessment but, as it's been said, the competitions review is necessary. It's been a collaborative approach and there have been a number of benefits that have emerged from the review beyond deciding on the actual composition of the competition structure itself," Hobbs said.
"Provincial unions have looked at issues and the way they operate. The process of galvanising support within their provinces has been a helpful process."
In Wellington they will front a New Zealand Rugby Union sub-committee consisting of Mike Eagle, Jock Hobbs, Graham Mourie, Paul Quinn and Warwick Syers.
The 14 bidding for professional status are: Northland, North Harbour, Auckland, Counties Manukau, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Hawkes Bay, Manawatu, Wellington, Nelson Bays-Marlborough (or Tasman), Canterbury, Otago and Southland.
The basic premier division criteria includes population, both current and forecast figures; player and club numbers, training and development structures; whether bidders have academies, team management structure, playing history, financial position and the calibre of a bidder's governance and administration.