Hawke's Bay have earned the right to challenge new holders Nelson for the Hawke Cup, the symbol of minor cricket supremacy in New Zealand, in a fortnight.
The Pay Excellence-sponsored Bay men's senior representative cricket team claimed a first-innings victory over second-placed Manawatu at Fitzherbert Park, Palmerston North, at the weekend to lift the Furlong Cup for the zone 2 qualifiers.
"It is obviously happy to be back challenging again so we're pretty excited," said captain Jacob Smith who was in the losing challenge against Marlborough as a 19-year-old, winning it from North Otago in 2016 before losing it in their first defence to the Bay of Plenty a fortnight later.
Smith considered himself lucky to be in a bumper summer era when quality cricketers provided the platform to savour the excitement reserved for a selected few around the country.
Zone 3 qualifiers Nelson beat zone 4 holders Southland to etch their name on the Hawke Cup for the first time in 22 years under the leadership of Central Districts Stags first-class captain Greg Hay on Sunday.
It was the 34-year-old opening batsman's first success in three attempts as he forged a valuable first-innings partnership of 297 runs with young Thomas Zohrab (122) who scored his maiden century.
Southland (zone 4) were the holders since taking the cup off Counties-Manukau (zone 1) in the final challenge of the summer of 2017-18.
Nelson will host the Bay in their first defence at Saxton Oval from March 1.
The Bay, under the tutelage of Dave Castle in his first season, stunned Manawatū for just 41 runs on Saturday, with ex-CD and Heretaunga Building Society Cornwall CC seamer Liam Dudding taking 7-16 while You Travel Taradale CC seamer Ben Stoyanoff chipped in with 3-17.
"We were lucky because we won the toss and it had probably rained the day before so it was a toss to win, to be honest, but Dudding and Stoyanoff did the job," said Smith, also the Cornwall premier men's team skipper.
CD Plunket Shield batsman Bradley Schmulian then scored an unbeaten 154 for a total of 325-9 declared before the hosts were 182-7 when both captains shook hands. The Bay scored 56 points from their five-match campaign with Manawatū second with 39.
Smith said when they started asking for middle and leg about an hour later the wicket was still tricky.
"Schmulian went out there and made it look fairly easy with Bayley [Wiggins] and the others," he said.
The Bay men last won the Hawke Cup under coach Colin Schaw, of Central Hawke's Bay, against North Otago in the 2015-16 season but lost it in their first defence to Bay of Plenty.
Smith said the Bay often played Nelson in the three-day Chapple Cup interdistrict tournament, the symbol of white-ball supremacy among regions in the CD region.
"We know a lot of their players so it's probably be a little less foreign territory than going to Southland, which could have been the case," he said, also mindful the Nelson weather would more likely guarantee three playing days.
Saxton Oval isn't a familiar venue to all, bar the players with Stags experience.
"I haven't played them [Nelson] once in my whole career there," Smith said of the red-ball format.
He wasn't sure if CD coach Heinrich Malan would release Schmulian for the challenge although Nelson would lose Hay with the defending champions Stags facing the Canterbury Kings on Thursday in Rangiora, near Christchurch, when the four-day Plunket Shield campaign resumes.
Malan said they were travelling today back from Hamilton after winning the Super Smash T20 crown on Sunday so no decision would be made on the CD playing squad until they gather tomorrow.
"We haven't set out our structure as yet," he said, confirming anyone not selected would be able to play for the Bay or Nelson.
Manawatu 41 and 182-7 lost to Pay Excellence Hawke's Bay 325-9 declared by first innings.
Horowhenua-Kapiti 273 and 126 lost outright to Taranaki 415.
Wairarapa 279 lost by first innings to Whanganui 385-8.
Hawke's Bay will challenge new Hawke Cup holders Nelson in a fortnight.
Final standings: Hawke's Bay 56pts, Manawatu 39, Horowhenua-Kapiti 38, Taranaki 37, Whanganui 34, Wairarapa 29.