It is going to take a mighty effort to steal the Ranfurly Shield away from Canterbury.
Such is the logical conclusion from another comprehensive victory, with Waikato summarily dispatched 37-17 at AMI Stadium tonight as Canterbury retained the Shield on their seventh defence.
Perhaps Taranaki, Canterbury's potent opponents next Friday, can muster a challenge for the Shield. That clash shapes as a potential look ahead to the final, and will determine who tops the Premiership table and earn home advantage throughout the playoffs.
At the moment, Canterbury have the edge, having regained top spot following their bonus point victory. Their 20-point victory was far easier than the score indicated, and possibly even tepid considering their recent Shield fixtures - putting 78 points on both Southland and Counties Manukau in their last two defences.
Waikato held their own for the first 20 minutes, but once mistakes crept into their game, Canterbury ruthlessly pounced.
A Braydon Ennor intercept from a loose Sam Christie pass was the first instance of a Waikato error being punished, and more was to come. Some aimless kicking gave Canterbury countless counter-attacking opportunities, and they cashed in on multiple occasions.
First, a 50 metre flowing attack was finished off by Rob Thompson steamrolling Waikato fullback Tyler Campbell on his way to the line, before a Richie Mo'unga cross-kick landed perfectly in the arms of Josh McKay who streaked away untouched.
Now 7-1 with a point differential of +206, Canterbury's 60-14 humbling at the hands of Wellington looks like an even greater outlier, and perhaps the defending champions are fortunate that they will avoid their toughest opposition in the Premiership playoffs.
They were also fortunate for that particular game to have been held in Wellington, and thus having no bearing on the Ranfurly Shield. Their tenure now stretches a year, with Waikato the last team to hold the Shield. While never looking likely to win it back, they had their moments, including a second-half period where they were camped in the Canterbury 22.
However, Canterbury's defence held, and kept Waikato without any competition points, consigning them right into the relegation tussle.
Waikato have finished in either fifth or sixth the last five seasons; mired in a bizarrely consistent mix of playoff disappointment and relegation fears. Their playoff drought will soon stretch to six seasons, leaving them to battle for the scant consolation of avoiding relegation.
With two games to go, they sit in sixth, just one point ahead of Counties Manukau, who can make the most of their game in hand when they host Northland today.
Waikato's struggles mirror those of many of the major provinces, many of whom will be asking questions of their relative futility at the provincial level.
All except Canterbury that is, who march on in quest for their ninth title in the last decade.
Canterbury 37 (B.Ennor, R.Thompson, J.McKay,T.Sanders tries; R.Mo'unga 4 con, 3 pens)
Waikato 17 (S.Reece 2, P.Ahki tries; Reece con)