Wellington ended Central Districts' season at the Basin Reserve yesterday, and believe their own is just beginning.
Captain James Franklin bludgeoned 18 off the final five deliveries from Stags paceman Seth Rance, to snare the Firebirds a bonus point as they cantered to their target of 201 with seven wickets and 10 overs to spare.
Yesterday's penultimate round of the national one-day competition whittled the contenders down to four who will contest the playoffs.
The Stags and Otago, who lost to Auckland by 73 runs, are already looking to next year.
The Firebirds, meanwhile, continue to gain pace with back-to-back wins, moving level with Auckland and within a point of second-placed Canterbury.
Wednesday's final round will determine the finishing order of the top four, with Northern Districts already assured of top spot after a 15-run win over Canterbury.
The Knights, who the Firebirds toppled in Hamilton last Wednesday, will host the second-placed team in the major semifinal at Mt Maunganui, while teams three and four will play a knockout match.
Wellington host Auckland at the Basin Reserve on Wednesday on a pitch the hosts hope will be sluggish.
"We might be looking at some low scores again. We're quite enjoying these dogfights where you've got to fight for every run and put the ball in good areas and you get rewarded," said senior paceman Brent Arnel.
That was again the key for the team's bowling coach and best performer, who snared 4-26 to cripple Central's innings after Mark Gillespie claimed the big wicket of Jamie How for six.
"I had the right grip and realised it was swinging in warmups and I went with that. There was some good, bad, and ugly; not as disciplined as I would have liked but the good balls were on key," Arnel said.
With seven former Black Caps in their lineup, Wellington should be dispatching fresh-faced, injury-hit teams like the Stags in their sleep. It's just taken them time to adjust to 50-over cricket again, Arnel said, with its fielding restrictions, power plays and a new ball from each end.
Opener Michael Papps anchored the chase in his usual composed way, an unbeaten 83 which saw them home comfortably.
Central's familiar late season injury woes meant a second-string attack, with Adam Milne, Doug Bracewell and Bevan Small all sidelined for various reasons.
Tom Blundell returned from a hamstring injury with a composed half-century, then Franklin opened the shoulders with the bonus point beckoning.
Arnel said their "team of old men" would rest up and come back fresh for Auckland who they haven't played in the one-day comp this season.
"Things are going according to plan and it's started a little roll for us. It's hopefully starting the momentum."
In Hamilton, the hosts defended 241-9 against Canterbury thanks to paceman Scott Kuggeleijn who took 4-39 to dismiss the Wizards for 226. In Auckland the hosts' 238 was enough as Otago folded for 165 thanks to hauls from Michael Bates and Tipene Friday.
AT A GLANCE
Ford Trophy points (one round remaining): Northern 22, Canterbury 18, Auckland 17, Wellington 17, Central 10, Otago 10.
- The Dominion Post