The land of the long white cloud is abuzz with excitement as the kick-off of the Mitre 10 Cup is only a day away.
Tasman, the current champs, will launch their campaign with the goal defending their title after they emerged victorious, 31-14, against Wellington in the Premiership final last year.
The first clash of the tournament sees North Harbour take on Canterbury at the QBE stadium. The last time the two locked horns was in Christchurch last October, where the home side put North Harbour away 31-25 in an enterprising game which booked Canterbury a place in the semis.
Waikato host Wellington in the second game of the round which will take place at Waikato Stadium on Saturday. Wellington enjoyed a strong season in 2019, finishing second on the log behind Tasman. Waikato, by contrast, struggled somewhat – finishing second-last on 22 points. The teams last met in Week 10 of the 2019 tournament; Wellington streaking to a 39-7 lead before the game opened up and Waikato built a comeback which was, ultimately, not enough.
Two other games follow on Saturday with Auckland travelling to Forsyth Barr Stadium to tackle Otago before Counties Manukau host Tasman.
Auckland finished 4th in the Premiership Division last year – losing out to Tasman in the semis – while Otago, finishing 3rd in the Championship Division, were put away by Hawke’s Bay in the semi final.
Neither Tasman nor Counties Manukau will easily forget the last time they encountered one another; when Tasman blew their opponents off the park in a 36-0 rout, with Crusaders’ flyer Will Jordan featuring prominently.
Another three match-ups lie in wait on Sunday with Northland hosting Manawatu, Taranaki taking on Bay of Plenty and, finally, Hawke’s Bay travelling to Rugby Park Stadium to tackle Southland.
The pick of the said trio will surely be last year’s Championship Division champions, Bay of Plenty running out in Taranaki’s back yard. Hawke’s bay made fairly easy work of Taranaki in their last match-up; the former piling 35 points on the latter’s 17. However, that being said, it is a new season and Taranaki will enjoy home-ground advantage on this occasion which may serve them well.