Brought to you by Wanganui Rugby
There will be a whole lot of marbles on the line at Dallison Park on Saturday as the top two Tasman Tanning Premier sides face off for both silverware and prime real estate on the points ladder.
Although whether games go ahead or if spectators can watch is a decision the Wanganui Rugby Union will make at noon on Friday given the Covid-19 alert level 2 being in place.
This middle section of the second-round draw sees the three leading sides in Waverley Harvesting Border, Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau and Byford Readimix Taihape all play each other, with the results likely to decide who gets the home semifinals - and in particular the precious top spot for what appears to be the easier playoff against whichever bottom three side makes it through.
Kaierau got momentum last weekend with an important 22-12 away win over Taihape, although Border were able to move one point ahead of them into clear first after a 44-12 victory up in Ohakune over McCarthy Transport Ruapehu.
Therefore, Kaierau will now bring back to Waverley the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield they won 19-12 off Border at the Country Club on July 11, although in home games this year Border have been a different animal - wrecking teams for big scores.
In fact, Border have not lost at home since June 8 of last year when it was 23-21 to Kaierau - a defeat the South Taranaki club avenged in a muddy semifinal at Dallison Park on July 20 with a 19-3 win, showing their big-match experience.
This is a scenario where many younger incumbent Steelform Wanganui squad members with Kaierau will match up across the field with Border's veterans of Wanganui Heartland rugby, and Kaierau co-coach Carl Gibson said his charges are looking forward to the challenge.
"It's two teams going at it that are fairly even. This is first place up for grabs and a home semifinal.
"Last week was a good game of rugby – just played physical and everyone used the ball."
This is the chance for Kaierau's flankers Dylan Bowater and Cade Robinson to test themselves against the rugged Angus Middleton, while Ethan Robinson can expect a game of mental chess from Border's brains trust of Lindsay Horrocks and Craig Clare.
"They can run a game, especially big games, and our guys haven't done as much of that," said Gibson.
Former hooker Joe Edwards has been playing well at No8, enjoying the freedom to run the ball, while the twin locks Josh Lane and Matt Ashworth can expect their toughest assignment against Border's trio of Jack Hodges, Toby Lennox and Sam Madams.
WRFU doesn't recognise a Premier "rookie of the year" award, as it would be difficult to quantify, but if it did exist, the leading contenders in 2020 would be Border flanker Semi Vodosese and Kaierau midfielder Dillon Adrole, former team mates in last year's impressive Whanganui Collegiate 1st XV.
"Their Semi is a good player, exceptional. Dillon's a standout, no question," said Gibson.
Although understandably playing his cards close to his chest, Border coach Cole Baldwin also acknowledged the importance of the clash.
"We make no secret of it; we want to finish at the top. But it's just another game, at the end of the day."
Border played the Ruapehu game without four regulars, which included lightning winger Vereniki Tikoisolomone acting as the WRFU's tallest ballboy, and Baldwin was looking to confirm his speedster's status at Wednesday night training.
But otherwise, they should be at full strength and looking to make adjustments after giving up two early tries in Ohakune, with Baldwin wanting lots of go-forward.
"We certainly didn't start very well, a little bit lethargic and didn't have the energy.
"The boys worked it out and came right in the last quarter of the first half.
"We've played some reasonable rugby, but still got a lot left in us – probably Kaierau are the same.
"Certainly Kaierau are doing really well, we treat them with a lot of respect."
Border has learned a lot since their only defeat of 2020 at the Country Club.
"It's who does the little things right, who can handle the pressure the best," said Baldwin.
"They put us under pressure last time and we didn't respond."
In the other Premier matches, Ruapehu are in win-or-bust mode for the semifinals when they head up the Waitotara Valley to face Settler's Honey Ngamtapouri, who likewise need the victory to keep up with Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist.
Marist head over to Memorial Park to face a Taihape side they barely lost to, 19-18 on July 11, after a missed conversion beside the posts.
The draw is:
Premier (2.30pm kickoffs): Taihape vs Marist, Memorial Park; Ngamatapouri vs Ruapehu, Waitotara Valley; Border vs Kaierau, Dallison Park.