- Is domestic rugby being undermined by the focus on the World Cup?
MAY 12, 1976
Rocky was made in 1976, the movie that launched old mumbleguts Sly Stallone and more sequels than Elizabeth Taylor had husbands.
An important year for New Zealand rugby too. The All Blacks toured South Africa - lost again, 3-1 (dodgy refs again) and the national championship began.
It seems odd now to even ponder a season without a competition, but that's how it was until then.
The opening game was on this date. Auckland 10, Hawkes Bay 7, at Napier's McLean Park.
The first tryscorers in the groundbreaking competition were Auckland back Tua Saseve and Hawkes Bay captain and lock Robbie Stuart.
Bay of Plenty were the first champions. Only two of their number made the New Zealand Rugby Almanack's XV that year - fullback Greg Rowlands and flanker Alan McNaughton, who were also among the five players of the year (alongside former or future All Blacks Stu Wilson, Andy Haden and Alistair Scown).
It remains, 31 years on, the Bay's only championship title.
OCTOBER 4, 1992
The first final under the new grand final format and a thumping win to a formidable Waikato side 40-5 against Otago in Hamilton.
The Waikato pack is worth remembering: John Mitchell, Duane Monkley, Richard Jerram, Brent Anderson, Steve Gordon, Graham Purvis, Warren Gatland, Richard Loe - which would be in the grand final for the finest provincial pack assembled.
The real drama happened after the game, when a television technician idly scrolling back through the tapes spotted something odd.
The result was test prop Loe copping a nine-month ban for eye-gouging Otago fullback Greg Cooper at a ruck. It was later reduced to six months on appeal.
JULY 10, 1994
Te Kuiti hasn't figured much in the championship's history, but it did that day, when Counties-Manukau came visiting and launched on the good folk of King Country, one J. T. Lomu.
They won, 38-14 and Lomu got one of their tries. In fact, King Country folk would have seen Lomu wearing the All Black jersey a few days earlier.
Lomu had played in pre-season games and scored four tries. He'd also caught All Black coach Laurie Mains' eye and so made his test debut a couple of weeks earlier, against France in Christchurch on June 26.
The shy 19-year-old didn't set that 2-0 series loss alight. But back then, he was just a young giant with immense promise.
OCTOBER 16, 1994
The most notorious final in championship history.
North Harbour had finished top in the round robin, then cleaned out Canterbury in their semifinal to earn hosting rights against Auckland.
That meant Onewa Domain, which was too small for a big occasion. All through the week the tension grew. Silly things were said, as you get between older and younger siblings, so by kickoff the blood was swirling round the heads.
The result, in the words of the Almanack, was "many shameful acts by well-known players".
It was a nasty old battle in which boots were put in places they shouldn't. Blood flowed. North Harbour's Eric Rush was sent off. Auckland won 22-16.
Interestingly, neither union made mention of the grubby stuff in their season reviews.
OCTOBER 25, 1997
The day the Vikings effectively died.
The Central Vikings were a two-year wonder, an ambitious amalgamation of Manawatu and Hawkes Bay, designed to be a force in division one, rather than two average second-division outfits.
They had some decent footballers. Mark Allen was skipper, and they had Christian Cullen, Stephen Bachop, Dion Waller, Danny Lee, Roger Randle, Mark Ranby ...
But it wasn't a happy association, even though they won all but one round robin game in their first year.
When they beat Bay of Plenty in their semifinal to set up a final against Northland that day, the dream was a win away. However, on the eve of the final, the New Zealand Rugby Union ruled the Vikings would be ineligible for promotion if they won.
Talk about putting a dampener on a decider. With all the wind removed from their sails, they tumbled to a 63-10 hiding in Whangarei.
They returned in 1998, winning the second division title before disappearing for good.
SEPTEMBER 5, 1999
Otago hosting North Harbour at Carisbrook. Early in the second half, referee Paul Honiss awarded Harbour a penalty try.
With 11 minutes to go, Otago trailed by 11 points.
Then Honiss awarded his second penalty try, against Harbour for killing the ball close to their line.
And with five minutes left, he ran to the posts a third time, when Otago halfback Corey Brown was taken out.
Three penalty tries in one game? Unheard of. And it did affect the final outcome, which was confirmed with time up when Brendan 'Chainsaw' Laney lined up a penalty shot from 44m. It sailed over the crossbar. Otago 39 Harbour 37.
OCTOBER 21, 2000
Years of Christchurch hurt is washed away for Wellington fans at Jade Stadium. They reckoned they didn't get a fair deal in the garden city, but that night they benefited from a tight Honiss call to win the final 34-29.
Deep in injury time, Wellington serial offender Dion Waller knocked down a Canterbury pass which would have given the hosts a four-on-one overlap. It was Wellington's fourth penalty conceded in overtime as they clung onto their lead.
Honiss gave Waller and Wellington the benefit of the doubt, although he did put him in the sin bin.
"But there was never a situation where they had, in my eyes and in my view, what would have been a probable try," Honiss recalled.
OCTOBER 21, 2006
It had been a long time between drinks for Waikato when they embarked on their campaign last year. There was a three-point loss to Otago early, a 22-all draw at Eden Park but otherwise they were supreme.
Otago were sorted out in the semifinal, 44-15, before Wellington were seen off in the final, more comfortably than the final score of 37-31 suggests.
It was 14 years since their last title and emotions flowed that night among hardened forwards.
In 2002, they lost the final to Auckland in Hamilton, there were semifinal defeats in the following two seasons.
Jono Gibbes had been through it all. The skipper, and inspirational heart of Waikato for many seasons, savoured the winning moment.
"I've already got a silver medal, and that's just a bottle opener in my bar. It doesn't mean anything," he said. "Now we've got the right colour, and it's something I've achieved with my mates."