Manawatu face minnow
If Wairarapa behave themselves over the next two days, Manawatu could find themselves challenging Hamilton City for the Hawke Cup from February 8.
But first there is the small matter of at least shading Wairarapa on the first innings to shut out second-placed Hawke's Bay who are only three points adrift but have a tough encounter away to Taranaki.
A year ago Wairarapa secured their first challenge in 25 years but were then walloped in Hamilton. Since then nine of their best men have departed, including Central Districts players Greg Todd to Melbourne and Seth Rance to Wellington.
And earlier in the summer, Manawatu thumped Wairarapa in a Chapple Cup one-dayer at Napier by 276 runs.
Manawatu have gone on to win every Hawke Cup elimination match - outright away over Taranaki in one amazing day and on the first innings over Wanganui, Horowhenua-Kapiti and Hawke's Bay.
"We've gone pretty well," said player coach Mike Mason.
"We deserve to be on top so far."
The Manawaroa 3 pitch should be nice and even, as it was for the Hawke's Bay game two weeks ago.
Manawatu will have two changes. Allrounder Arana Noema-Barnett is at a New Zealand under-19 camp at Lincoln so Turbos hooker Bryn Templeman comes in, and Roald Badenhorst has joined CD. Bevan Small had to return from CD for a family funeral but will be able to play for Manawatu in place of Badenhorst.
Back from the CD under-19 team at Lincoln are a centurymaker there, Brynn Cleaver, and pace bowler Navin Patel.
"We are a little bowling heavy but there should be enough batting," said Mason.
All Manawatu lack is a specialist spinner.
Wairarapa have a young side, Sammy Curtis is a player-coach who tried to retire this summer and Henry Cameron played many seasons for Old Boys while at Massey University. Harry Clinton-Baker scored a century versus Hawke's Bay.
"We haven't lost a game outright," said Curtis. "But we sort of know what we're coming up against.
"Manawatu have a lot of first-class players."
Wairarapa are sitting in fourth and beat Horowhenua outright in their last match.
Curtis said Wairarapa will miss Queen Elizabeth Park groundsman of the past two seasons, Andy May, who is taking up the head groundsman's job at Fitzherbert Park, Palmerston North.
Before that May worked at Seddon Park, Hamilton.
"Hopefully we'll get someone half as good as Andy," Curtis said. "He's a big loss to us."
Manawatu: Brynn Cleaver (Old Boys), Luke Murray (Freyberg), Mitchell Renwick (Marist), David Meiring (Marist), Dane Cleaver (Frey), Bevan Small (Frey), Hayden Hill (United), Tim Richards (O Boys), Mike Mason (Frey), Navin Patel (Marist), Bryn Templeman (O Boys), Phil Mecredy (United).
Wairarapa: Tim Lucas, Sean Jarvis, Joe Hull, Henry Cameron (captain), Harry Clinton-Baker, Sammy Curtis, Alex Treseder, Ben Foster, Josh Mann, Jared Watt, Quentin McKenna, Stefan Hook-Sporry. Zone 2 Hawke Cup points: Manawatu 31, Hawke's Bay 28, Taranaki 24, Wairarapa 13, Wanganui 8, Horowhenua-Kapiti 2.
- Manawatu Standard
How will the Hurricanes do in 2015?Related story: Supporting players light up Hurricanes bright start to Super Rugby season