The Bay of Plenty Steamers have already beaten one Ranfurly Shield holder at Rotorua International Stadium this season.

For the sake of their faltering Mitre 10 Cup campaign, they'd do well to repeat the dose tonight against the current holders of the log o'wood, Waikato.

"We understand the enormity of this match. We're at the crossroads of the season," according to assistant coach Rodney Gibbs.

On August 18, in what is still the Steamers' best showing of the season, Taranaki - then the shield holders - were dispatched 30-10.


Since then Waikato have also beaten Taranaki. They've claimed the shield, won three in a row after starting with three losses and arrive in Rotorua tonight riding a wave of confidence.

Things are not so rosy with the home team. After an encouraging start, there have been three losses in succession, including what was their least impressive showing last Sunday against North Harbour.

What's more disturbing is that the Steamers currently lie fifth on the second tier Championship table, outside a semifinals place and need to come home strong in their final five matches to make the playoffs.

"We know the season starts here," says Gibbs.

"Our matches against Premiership teams are finished. But we're still aiming for a top two finish to get that home semifinal.

"The next couple of weeks are really important."

But there are some frustrating injury concerns.

Veteran first five eighth and co-captain Mike Delany is likely gone for the season with a pectoral bicep tear suffered against North Harbour.


The other co-captain, Tanerau Latimer, has hamstring issues and, as with in-form fullback Chase Tiatia and his knee problem, will be a week-to-week proposition.

Kaleb Trask returns from his triumphant under 19 tournament to play fullback and Te Puke Sports Jason Robertson takes over the No 10 jersey from Delany.

In the forwards, big Canadian Tyler Ardon starts at No 8 after earlier playing at lock and blindside flanker.

For Whakarewarewa prop James Lay, it'll be a special occasion.

After playing his 15th and blazer game as an impact player off the bench last Sunday (and scoring a try), he'll actually be presented with the blazer on his home ground.

The starting front row from the last three matches of Solomona Sakalia, Tom Crozier and Ross Geldenhuys has been retained, while Lay will again join fellow prop Jeff Thwaites and back-up hooker Gus MacDonald to come off the bench in the second half.

Like the rest of the squad, Lay is very aware of the significance of this match.

"We always believe we can win every game we play. But we've just been letting ourselves down with our skills.

"It's the one per cent, that's the frustrating thing. We're going well on attack, then it's one skill error. We make it hard for ourselves."

Gibbs agrees.

"We've turned the ball over too easily.

"Then when you lose the ball and have to defend for long periods of time, it takes its toll."

Waikato are not the ideal opponents to have when you're on a three game losing streak. The neighbours started terribly with three straight losses but the Jono Gibbes-coached outfit turned it around with three wins in eight days, including the Ranfurly Shield victory.

The Steamers have a massive task ahead of them tonight.

Bay of Plenty team to play Waikato at Rotorua International Stadium at 7.35pm:
15. Kaleb Trask
14. Bailey Simonsson
13. Liam Steel
12. Terrence Hepetema
11. Matt Garland
10. Jason Robertson
9. Richard Judd
8. Tyler Ardron ©
7. Hugh Blake
6. Zane Kapeli
5. Kane Leaupepe
4. Nick Ross
3. Ross Geldenhuys
2. Tom Crozier
1. Solomona Sakalia
Reserves: (Forwards) Angus MacDonald, James Lay, Jeff Thwaites, Baden Wardlaw, Mitch Karpik, AJ Mua, (Backs) Fu'asui Fuatai, Luke Campbell

What: Bay of Plenty v Waikato
Where: Rotorua International Stadium
When: Tonight, 7.35pm
(Preceded by Bay of Plenty Volcxanix v Taranaki women at 5.05pm)