New competition, same old Northern sub-union rivalry.
Unbeaten McCarthy's Transport Ruapehu and their neighbours, both geographical and points table, Byford's Readimix Taihape, are steeling themselves for a tough start to the new-look Tasman Tanning Division 1 competition at Memorial Park on Saturday afternoon.
With their grade reduced to six teams, five of whom are good enough to beat the others on any given day, Grand Hotel Challenge Shield holders Ruapehu have a handy early points lead, as the sides carry over half of their competition tally from the eight-team first round.
However, given Ruapehu played both of the now-relegated teams in Settler's Honey Ngamatapouri and Black Bull Liquor Pirates on their own grounds, they have received a tough draw of reciprocating away matches, with only one of the five games in the second round being in Ohakune.
It is also a quicker turnaround to play Taihape again, after Ruapehu barely held on for an 8-5 victory in a mistake-riddled game at Rochfort Park on April 27.
"You've got to take the good with the bad, I suppose," said Ruapehu manager Mark Green.
"If you get to a final, you aren't going to get that at home anyway, so I guess it's up to us to get that home semi.
"Everybody's in the same boat, they're probably thinking the same thing we're thinking.
"Every game, you've got to treat it as a final. There's been some cracker games."
Coming off the Queens Birthday Weekend break, the team will welcome back fullback Mitchell Millar from his trip to Australia, but ahead of his territory kicking game, they will be putting most of their stock up front in hooker Roman Tutauha packing down with the Hakaraia boys – Gabriel and Te Uhi.
Campbell Hart and Jamie Hughes will marshall the team from the loose forwards – if they don't like how things are going with the young playmakers in the backline, they have the strength and mana to just take over the whole match.
It is that dominant set piece which had Ruapehu leading by safe margins at halftime against the likes of Taihape, Waverley Harvesting Border, Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau and Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist in the first round.
However, all those teams then won the second half, finishing within or near striking distance, and there are no longer any surprises – hold the Ruapehu tiger by the tail for the first hour, and you've got a shot at the victory.
"[Ruapehu] took a bit of a hammering in that Kaierau game," said Green.
"We just got the jump on them in the first half, then they've realised what's happening and woke up, getting their 40 minutes.
"Everything's up on the table now, it's do or die, got to take what you can get.
"Especially down [in Taihape] in front of their home ground. Hopefully we can carry on the business."
Taihape coach Tom Wells has been itching to get another crack at his northern neighbours, not to mention the Challenge Shield which Taihape only just surrendered in their opening game with Border in Waverley.
Backed up by a strong Senior team, Taihape's Premier side took a casual approach to the start of the season, planning to be peaking for this second round, and they will need to be when getting the competition's frontrunners first up.
"Rua's got a decent lead on everybody else, and it's tight for the rest, other than Ratana," Wells said.
"The focus now is home semi, they've proven so crucial to getting to the final. We feel we've got the squad.
"Our defence has been the best in the comp by a way, so we know we can tackle.
"That game in Ohakune, we couldn't catch and pass, couldn't get away. You don't want to be in a fight in the midfield.
"You don't get any cheap win, there's no such thing with Rua."
Taihape match up very well to Tutauha and the Hakaraia's with some representative front-rowers of their own in hooker Dylan Gallien combining with Wiremu Cottrell, plus Hadlee Hay-Horton having returned this season.
"It's an awesome pack, the two best packs in the comp, in my mind," said Wells.
Another tower of strength in the backline for Taihape has been Jaye Flaws, the former representative winger who rebuilt himself as a dominant midfielder.
"On his day, he's the best second-five in the comp, he's been bloody crucial to us for the last couple of weeks," said Wells.
Ironically, after 80 minutes of bashing each other up, the best players of both teams will then combine next weekend as the Northern sub-union in the Game of Three Halves representative trial with Rangitikei/Country and Metro.
Wells said being a keen yet clean rivalry, that won't be a problem.
"We feel we're out here in the Northern Rangitikei, and Rua say, 'if not us, then Taihape,' and we say the same."
In the other games of Division 1, third place Border take on fourth place Kaierau at Waverley, while Marist will be looking to get a good launch into the round against Ratana at Spriggens Park.
The new look Division 2 will also kickoff as Pirates and Ngamatapouri join with the Top 4 teams from Senior, while Division 3 will be a seven-team grade with the introduction of the Counties Brothers team, and will play a straight round robin to the end of the year with no playoffs.
Ruapehu Seniors were going to join Division 3, but were a last minute withdrawal due to financial reasons.