Unbeaten Whakarewarewa were gearing up to face long-time rivals Rotoiti in the Central Bay of Plenty final this weekend, but the script has been rewritten.
Whakarewarewa, who finished top of the table with 10 wins from 10, will now play Ngongotahā after Rotoiti were docked eight competition points for playing unregistered players in wins over Kahukura and Waikite.
Ngongotahā director of rugby Jodie Wharekura said he felt for those Rotoiti players who had played all season and would now miss out on the chance to play a final.
"We're really happy to be there but it is a shame and I feel for those guys from Rotoiti who played the entire season. The rules are the rules at the end of the day and we all have to abide by them.
"The boys had a bit of a get-together and will get a training run in. A few aren't available because they went away thinking the season was over, but we'll have a team together and they'll front up. We're all excited to play in a final."
The Premier final, at Puarenga Park at 2.45pm, will be preceded by the Development final at 1pm, contested by the same two clubs.
Ngongotahā had two teams in the Central Bay of Plenty development competition this season and Wharekura said it was actually the club's third team who had made the final.
"We were lucky to have the three senior men's teams this year. The team that made the final was going to be playing in the Western Bay Senior Reserve competition pre-Covid.
"We have 17 guys over 40 in our squad - I'm 47 and I've been playing as well. In some ways that group was just going out to participate post-Covid, against these younger guys. No way did we think we'd be in a final.
"I think having both teams up there in finals is clarification that our club has made huge improvements in the last five years, it's been a hell of a journey. We see this as the start line though, the last five years have been a bit of catch-up, Saturday will represent the start of the journey to really be competitive."
He was full of praise for what Whakarewarewa had achieved in recent years.
"They've been the pinnacle of Rotorua rugby for a long time now and they've had a marvellous year including their development side. They've got a great culture there, they've certainly made some great improvements.
"[In the Premier final] it's going to take something special to beat Whakarewarewa on Saturday. They are the pinnacle side. For our team, they just need to gout there and believe they can do it. In some ways, there's no pressure on our boys, for a lot of people it's a foregone conclusion, the pressure is on Whaka to continue being the form side. They are a wonderful team though," Wharekura said.
Whakarewarewa captain Doug Edwards said he and his team had made a pact to focus on their own preparation, regardless of who they ended up playing in the final.
"We want to make sure our systems are in place, we're feeling good and positive and going through what we need to."
Whakarewarewa have won all 10 of their games this season, scoring 44.4 points per game on average and conceding just 6.2 per game.
With the Covid situation it was a chance to help out the Central Bay teams, the Central Bay union and bring some mana back to Rotorua. I think it was a great idea.
Edwards said the secret to the team's success was the community and team culture although he was quick to point out some of the results did not show how hard they had been made to work.
"The culture at the club has been awesome right through, the JAB boys have been coming to our trainings and looking at what we're doing, that culture had filtered through the whole club.
"In terms of the scores, I don't think they show the real feel of the games, they've been really tough. We've had to keep our standards high - yes, there's some big scores there but we came off after every game battered and bruised."
He said the club had "thoroughly enjoyed" the season.
"It was different in that we're not used to an all Central Bay season, being used to Baywide, but with the Covid situation it was a chance to help out the Central Bay teams, the Central Bay union and bring some mana back to Rotorua. I think it was a great idea."
Spectator access to Saturday's games will be limited due to mass gathering restrictions but a live stream will be available at the Local Gecko Productions Facebook page.