While the home semifinal is safely in the bag, Steelform Wanganui is heading into its final match of round-robin play against Horowhenua-Kapiti hunting a win.
The defending Heartland champions are unbeaten and seven points clear of South Canterbury and Thames Valley tied on 27 (although South Canterbury has a far better goal difference), but still has ample incentive to beat their old foes at Cooks Gardens on Saturday.
For starters, Wanganui players are keen to get their hands back on the Bruce Steel Memorial Cup currently in the Horowhenua-Kapiti trophy cabinet. The cup is contested during pool play only between Wanganui, Horowhenua-Kapiti and Wairarapa Bush.
Horowhenua Kapiti claimed it off Wanganui during pool play last season and, while Wanganui dealt to them in the Heartland final, the cup unfortunately was not up for grabs.
"We have plenty of incentive to win this weekend despite our lead," coach Jason Caskey said.
"The Bruce Steel Cup is certainly a major incentive. The boys said right back at the start of the season that was one of their goals, but there are plenty of other incentives too. I certainly don't want to head into a semifinal on the back of a loss - that can impact on confidence. We've had a pretty good run and we don't want to spoil it. Horowhenua is always a tough team."
Utility back Dane Whale and loose forward Jamie Hughes return to duty off the bench on Saturday after Caskey rested them last week against East Coast.
"It was nice to have the luxury of resting players and giving some of those on the fringes a run. Our aim this season has been to strengthen our depth and we've been able to do that. Jamie has also had niggling injuries to deal with, so it was timely."
The depth Caskey alluded to includes Tyler Rogers-Holden who is named at fullback in the starting line-up tomorrow.
"We have a pretty blessed backline. Tyler is so versatile providing great cover anywhere in the backs and then we have Dane off the bench."
Caskey is expecting a tough battle up front against Horowhenua-Kapiti, so has gone with five forwards and two backs on the bench.
"I think we will get a bit more change out of having extra forwards. Horowhenua have a big, strong pack and we need to match them up front. We haven't got a reserve halfback, but Lindsay (Horrocks) is pretty tough."
Caskey wouldn't be drawn on which side he would prefer to meet in the semifinal with South Canterbury, Thames Valley and King Country vying for spots this weekend, although Wiararapa Bush still has a mathematical chance of making the cut depending on results.
The semifinal make-up will not be known until around 4.30pm on Saturday.
"They're all pretty tough. We'll just focus on our play for now," Caskey said.
Meanwhile, Whanganui Maori are favoured on paper to beat a strong Wanganui Samoan XV in the curtainraiser at Cooks Gardens tomorrow.
However, Maori coach Dennis Tucker is not buying into that assessment.
"I don't know about being favourites. Wanganui Samoans will be a strong side and with the likes of Ace Malo stepping up as coach they can never be underestimated," Tucker said.
Whanganui Maori defaulted last week with work committments and niggling injuries impacting on numbers. However, they have an almost full strength side to take the paddock on Saturday.
Whanganui Maori have only played once this season going down to a strong Taranaki Maori Xv by just two points.
"What I can guarantee on Saturday is a very entertaining game for the crowd. These boys are all mates off the field, but there is no love lost on the paddock. It will be a fast-paced game to get the crowd going," Tucker said.
Wanganui Samoans are fresh from winning the High Commissioner's Cup this season, although Malo believes his side may lack fitness on Saturday.
The High Commissioner's Cup has been contested between Wanganui Samoans, Hawkes Bay Samoans, Manawatu Samoans and Horowhenua Samoans. Wanganui beat Hawkes Bay this year to take the title.
Malo, the 37-year-old player-coach who is a veteran of 85 games for the union between 2004 and last season, said he may take to the field tomorrow depending on numbers available from training last night.