Clash of contenders set to get Manawatu senior A season off to hot start
A early grudge match should set the tone for an exciting first week of senior A club rugby.
Kia Toa and College Old Boys emerged as one of the more interesting and fiery rivalries of 2016 and their week one match-up should be no different this year.
The last time the two sides met, Kia Toa pulled off an upset 32-28 win over competition favourites COB.
That match followed one of the more fiery encounters of the season when COB won 38-17.
There has been plenty of changes for both teams, but don't expect there to be any love lost between the sides.
Much focus will be on how COB loose forward Brice Henderson pulls through the match in his return from injury.
Halfback Karl Bryson, midfielder Curtis Reid and young fullback Tyla McNeill will be the keys of the COB backline.
But Kia Toa look the stronger side on paper.
They have bolstered their forward pack with some talented youngsters and once again feature one of the most dangerous backlines in club rugby.
First five-eighth Jade Te Rure has plenty to play for as he looks to rebound from an injury-plagued stint in Scotland with Edinburgh.
Being able to field a team in week one is an achievement in itself for Linton Army, but they have not been given an easy start with Old Boys-Marist ready to pounce.
Linton will be reliant on Nick Fakahau, Matt Cressy, Leni Tonga, Jimmy Berghan and Tejay Oliver.
That core should see them remain competitive.
And memories of their best win of last season, 43-36 against OBM in round one, will be another reason for positivity.
But OBM will be determined to get the year off to a strong start.
Their backline has a very different feel to last year's with Bain Champion taking the reins at first five-eighth, the midfield featuring former Wanganui representative Kameli Kuruyabaki and Jared Deal and Turbos outside back Luther Hirini at fullback.
Defending champions Varsity get their campaign underway against a re-built Feilding Old Boys-Oroua side.
Varsity have got most of their core back from last year with a handful of Rams players getting the chance to step up.
They can expect a big season from first five-eighth Sam Malcolm with two years of provincial rugby under his belt and Nick Birchfield might be the best back-up first five in the club competition.
FOB-Oroua have an exciting young group with Max Fryatt, Tom Stewart and Cameron Black all making their debuts this weekend.
The experience of first five-eighth Matt Iwikau should help give them direction, while former academy flanker Ollie Brosnahan is now set for a role in the outside backs.
Feilding and Te Kawau feature in the other game.
It is a rematch of the Val Holland final from last year and will be key for both side's chances of cracking the top four.
Freyberg have a bye in week one, but have a preseason game against Ruapehu.
Meanwhile, the 12-team senior B competition also gets underway this weekend.
The competition features the same sides as last year, minus the now defunct Pirates.
Two teams have already defaulted the first round.
Both Te Kawau and Linton pulled out of their matches against Feilding and OBM respectively.
But both sides are expected to be able to field teams for the second round of the competition.
In the other matches, the Rams play FOB-Oroua, COB play Kia Toa, Bulls are against Dannevirke and Bush take on Freyberg.