This week could define the season for Counties Manukau.

Tomorrow night the Steelers travel to Eden Park to meet their big brothers, Auckland, then only four days later head to Napier to challenge Hawkes Bay for the Ranfurly Shield.

Given the way they've started the ITM Cup season - one win and two losses - you wouldn't bet on them winning both games but the South Auckland faithful can be afforded the opportunity to dream.

Counties haven't beaten Auckland since 2008 and they've also never held the Ranfurly Shield but two wins in quick succession this week would almost see the Steelers' campaign given an immediate pass mark.


"Everyone knows that there is a Shield challenge that we'll have on Saturday but as a squad and as a management team we know that we've got a job to do first and that's Wednesday and then we'll think about all those other things after that," Counties assistant coach Steve Jackson said.

The Steelers may also have to make do without starting pivot Baden Kerr, who missed last Friday's disappointing 40-20 defeat to Tasman with a haematoma in his leg.

Utility back Ahsee Tuala filled in against the Makos last week and may be employed to run the cutter again tomorrow.

Counties boast an exciting team on paper but haven't been able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together in 2013 after winning promotion from the Championship last year.

"We can't afford to go up and down week in, week out," Jackson said. "We need to be consistent and build on the things that we are good at doing."

The romance of the Ranfurly Shield is alive and well after Otago's historic win over Waikato in round two, while Hawkes Bay pinched the Log from the Southern Men only nine days later on Sunday to snap their 44-year drought without the Shield.

"It's great for the game that New Zealand can have something like this," Jackson said.

It must be time for Counties to add their chapter to the storied history of New Zealand rugby's most coveted prize.