Brought to you by Wanganui Rugby
One Tasman Tanning Premier team is 2-1 and worried about the errors they are making, while the other is 1-2 and a picture of optimism.
In truth, in what was always going to be the tightest Premier ladder in several seasons with only six teams and the delayed start after Covid-19 shutdown, Waverley Harvesting Border and Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist could have easily been in reverse places on the table heading into Saturday's clash.
Marist pounded the Settler's Honey Ngamatapouri tryline for the last five minutes up the Waitotara Valley on July 4, but couldn't break through to prevent the 21-16 defeat, while one week later, only a missed conversion beside the posts which shaved the upright saw them lose 19-18 to Byford's Readimix Taihape at Spriggens Park.
After questions over their ability to finish strongly, Marist showed their mettle against McCarthy's Transport Ruapehu when they came from 20-7 down, scoring 16 points in the last 10 minutes for a 30-23 win last weekend at Spriggens.
Border started their season perfectly with a 58-13 hammering of Ruapehu at Dallison Park, but the road schedule proved tough as they surrendered the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield 19-12 to Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau at the Country Club, before just securing what could prove a vital 18-17 win over Taihape with a try inside the last minute at Memorial Park.
For a team dealing with adversity as a grieving Josaia Bogileka has not played recent games, Marist coach Travers Hopkins was delighted they did themselves some justice by grinding it out with Ruapehu.
"It's good reward for the hard work they've put in."
There were unexpected heroes, as 18-year-old Rangi Kui put his hand up before the opening whistle to cover the goal kicking for the absent Ashton Coates, and contributed 12 priceless points.
Veteran Simon Dibben came on to make some solid bursts, but all anyone could talk about was prop Viki Tofa's stunning drop goal to bring his side back into contention.
"It's almost folklore now, he did pop it out," said Hopkins.
"He has said in the past, 'if it's on, I'll take it'."
Doing the maths on the win, plus the two matches they got close, Hopkins said they have to keep the faith a Top 4 berth is obtainable in 2020, to the point he hopes his young players can rise to the occasion again in Waverley.
"Never easy, it's going to be a tough game. We're under no illusions.
"One thing I love about this team is they love a challenge.
"There's nowhere to hide, you've got to turn up week in, week out."
For his part, no-nonsense Border coach Cole Baldwin needs his team to find another gear after the long away trip to Taihape.
"It was a tough game, we've just got to keep getting better," he said.
"Still making a few too many errors.
"We got over the line in the end – Border teams in the past would have shut up shop and folded."
Pleased to be in the rare position of a 100 per cent health rate - necessary with a talented but slightly smaller squad - Baldwin knows they cannot give the underdog Marist side a sniff.
Kaierau put the pressure on at the Country Club and his side did not respond, while it was only learning from that which got them up over Taihape, who did the same.
"Every game's going to be tough, just got to treat everyone with respect."
Halfback Lindsay Horrocks is having another banner campaign, scoring tries in every match, while Baldwin is happy with the progress of another try scorer against Taihape in centre Alekesio Vakarorogo – the latest member of his Fijian rugby family to join the Waverley-based club, following cousins Ranato and Vereniki Tikoisolomone.
"Going well for the first three weeks. Pretty sure he's got a little bit more left in there."
Last year's honours were shared with both teams claiming the away fixture – Marist winning 27-25 against an undermanned Border in Waverley in April, but being hammered 46-0 at Spriggens Park in July when they had to play 78 minutes with 14 men.
In the other games, Taihape will be hunting their first win at home since May 25 last year when they host Ngamatapouri at Spriggens Park, while Kaierau will take the Challenge Shield up to Ohakune to face winless Ruapehu.
The draws are:
Premier (2.30pm kickoffs): Border vs Marist, Dallison Park; Taihape vs Ngamatapouri, Memorial Park; Ruapehu vs Kaierau, Rochfort Park.
Senior (1pm kickoffs): Border vs Celtic, Dallison Park; Pirates vs Counties, Spriggens Park (2.30pm); Buffalo's vs Kaierau, Spriggens Park; Taihape vs Ratana, Memorial Park; Hunterville vs Marton, Hunterville; Utiku Old Boys bye.