To be 10 weeks from an election is like watching the last 10 minutes of a Super Rugby match. Dare I say Crusaders v the Blues? With 10 minutes left on the clock, a team in the lead starts playing safe, taking no chances. The trailing team has to take some risks and somebody is liable to do something stupid.
It is not usually a playmaker as experienced as National's Michelle Boag, who passed a file of named Covid cases to a rookie MP, who foolishly showed it to the press. Boag was setting up a privacy issue to embarrass the red team but young Hamish Walker was more intent upon proving the ethnicity of people being quarantined in his electorate.
He had been accused of racism and naively believed truth would be a defence to that charge.
When a trailing team resorts to desperate plays with time running out, it frequently leaks tries and a match that has been close can end in a rout.
With 10 weeks to go in this match, both teams have made key substitutions. Labour has replaced a weak health minister and the new one has started strongly. National has dragged off its captain and his replacement is struggling.
Poor Todd Muller. He has not really recovered from the disasters of his first week. Whenever he appears on television he still looks startled and uncertain, like a tight forward who has received the ball in open play.
He pursued the leak of Covid case data for all he is worth, calling it "quite staggering", " loose", "shabby", "a reminder these guys can't manage important things well". Then he learned his own side had done it.
National had been doing so well in the first two years of this parliamentary term, the leading party in almost all polls, defying the usual fate of an opposition in the first term of a new government. Then a global pandemic came along like a gale behind the government. All governments gain from a crisis unless, like Donald Trump, they try to play against it.
Covid-19 has enabled Labour to play with confidence at last. The reason it has taken so long to find its feet, I think, is that it did not have the usual preparation for power. At this point three years ago, 10 weeks out from the election, Andrew Little was still Labour's leader and polls were pointing to a fourth term for National.
Labour was the trailing team, resorting to rash decisions, mainly in the form of expensive promises it did not expect to be in a position to keep. Promises such as re-entering the Pike River mine, a royal commission into child abuse long ago, free tertiary tuition, Kiwibuild, light rail ...
Then, at the end of July, after a particularly low poll, Labour's leader took the most daring decision of all, handing over to his deputy. How much better might National be faring now if Simon Bridges had been big enough to do the same?
Paula Bennett was pure gold for the National Party. As Minister of Social Development in the first term of the Key Government she was shadowed by a new Labour MP, Jacinda Ardern. Up against a cheerful voice of experience on a sole parent's benefit, Ardern sounded like a social science graduate and was soon re-assigned.
Bennett was rated very highly by John Key, Bill English and Steven Joyce and, when she was deputy to Bridges, it became easy to see why. She wasn't only likeable, she could be bold and tough and she possessed good political judgement. Unfortunately, she was also fiercely loyal and went down with Bridges. Now she is leaving the field and blue supporters will miss her.
Labour, meanwhile, is starting to act like a party that deserves to be in government rather than one that was lucky to be chosen by Winston Peters after coming a distant second to National in 2017. With Peters now distancing himself for the election, Labour is able to make more responsible decisions.
It has announced no more money will be wasted on the pointless Pike River re-entry beyond the $35 million committed. It has shelved light rail and this week it kicked for touch on mad schemes to move Auckland's port. Free tertiary tuition is being targeted to apprenticeships.
The party appears to be preparing to be a more sensible, practical government in a second term when, on current polling, it would be much less reliant on minor players.
With 10 weeks to go, Labour is playing safe and solid. Ardern's speech to its pre-election conference last weekend was the low-key performance of a Prime Minister who doesn't need to rouse her team or take risks with expensive new commitments. She can run down the clock.