Desperate BOP will be a tough nut to crack
Despite losing their last two matches, the Tasman Makos rugby team still have every chance of securing a home semifinal if they beat Bay of Plenty at Trafalgar Park in Nelson on Thursday night.
Currently third equal on the Championship points table with Northland, they are just four behind second-placed Otago, and one ahead of Southland but have a game in hand over Northland and Southland.
Bay of Plenty will be a tough nut to crack. They are a premiership team desperate to avoid the wooden spoon and automatic relegation to the championship division who beat Northland 31-19 over the weekend.
The last time the Makos and BOP met was in 2010 at Lansdowne Park in Blenheim, the home side winning a thriller 41-39.
It won't be easy for the Makos, of course.
Following BOP they face runaway championship leaders Counties Manukau away then cellar dwellers North Harbour in Nelson.
Otago have an even tougher task, playing Manawatu in Palmerston North followed by Auckland in Dunedin.
Northland have Canterbury and Counties Manukau at home. Southland, on the wrong end of a 0-81 thrashing by Canterbury over the weekend, host Ranfurly Shield-holders Taranaki and Manawatu to finish their round-robin campaign.
Only a major reversal in form would see Counties Manukau miss a home semifinal.
They host Waikato and the Makos and finish with a game against Northland away.
Thursday night's clash in Nelson will be a momentous occasion for popular Makos skipper Andrew Goodman. He joins the exclusive half century club alongside Robbie Malneek, Jonathan Poff and Mark Bright.
Goodman made his debut off the subs bench in 2006 in a 25-39 loss to Wellington and started his first match at centre in 2007 against Taranaki at New Plymouth. Apart from a season away playing in Japan, he has been a regular fixture in the team.
Malneek is approaching another milestone. Already the most capped Makos player, add on 29 games he played for Nelson Bays and the BOP game will be his 99th in the district.
The Makos team will be named tomorrow and should not deviate too much from the side which turned on a hugely improved performance in going down 19-20 to Waikato.
Former All Black prop Campbell Johnstone, a late withdrawal from the Waikato match due to a calf muscle injury, is expected to be fit for selection and should return to the starting XV.
Backs Bryce Heem and Mitchell Scott are still on the injured list, Heem out for the season, while winger James Lowe may be available for selection following a two-week break because of concussion.
Thursday night's match kicks off at 7.35pm.
The Marlborough Express