Marlborough's leading bowlers face a tough task when the intercentre competition gets under way in Auckland today.
Drawn in section three - alongside Bay of Plenty, Central Otago, Hawke's Bay, Northland and the West Coast - the Marlborough men's team will have to play well to finish as one of the top two sides from each section that advance to the quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon.
Northland, who sneaked into the finals last season, appear to be the toughest opposition for Marlborough, alongside Bay of Plenty and Hawke's Bay.
The Marlborough women are also in section three, which includes Counties Manukau, Hawke's Bay, South Otago, Thames Valley and Wairarapa.
The competition's defending champions are Auckland (men) and Nelson (women).
Auckland are in section one of the men's event, with the stiffest opposition likely to come from Wellington and Taranaki, who finished third last year.
Section two, which shapes as an intriguing battle, includes recent winners Canterbury and Manawatu.
Nelson, with Shannon McIlroy in the singles and Andy Curtain skipping the pair, loom as the strongest side in section four, with North Harbour, Whanganui and Southland all eyeing the second qualifying berth.
Nelson again appeals in the women's competition, with Val Smith in the singles and Jo Edwards skipping the pairs. However, they face a tricky section, including Bay of Plenty, Auckland and Wellington, along with Southland who finished second last year. Canterbury should be the side to beat in section one.
Section three appears wide open, while Northland will fancy their chances in section four, with Dunedin and Whanganui the biggest threats.
Unlike previous seasons when provinces have qualified for the national final by winning a regional event, this year centres head straight into the big time.
Of the 27 centres in New Zealand, 24 have taken up the opportunity - and paid the $4000 entry fee per gender - to be involved.
Only Kapiti, Buller and North Otago have opted out. The semifinals and finals are scheduled for Sunday at the Howick club.
New Zealand Intercentre contest in Auckland, February 22-24.
Men: Section 1: Auckland, Far North, South Canterbury, South Otago, Taranaki, Wellington. Section 2: Canterbury, Dunedin, Gisborne East Coast, Manawatu, Thames Valley, Waikato. Section 3: Bay of Plenty, Central Otago, Hawke's Bay, Marlborough, Northland, West Coast. Section 4: Counties Manukau, Nelson, North Harbour, Southland, Wairarapa, Whanganui.
Women: Section 1: Canterbury, Manawatu, North Harbour, South Canterbury, Taranaki, Waikato. Section 2: Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Central Otago, Nelson, Southland, Wellington. Section 3: Counties Manukau, Hawke's Bay, Marlborough, South Otago, Thames Valley, Wairarapa. Section 4: Dunedin, Far North, Gisborne East Coast, Northland, Whanganui, West Coast.
Marlborough teams: Men: singles, Lloyd Gallop; pairs, Graham Hood, Warren Brown; fours, Craig MacDonnell, Dick Jones, Greg Smith, Sanjhe Prasad. Women: singles, Sandra Blunt; pairs, Josephine Romano, Pam Stevens; fours, Jan Gallop, Rosemary Finch, Mary Riddell, Dorothy McLean.
- The Marlborough Express