Tasman Trophy club rugby series kicks off with exciting interprovincial match ups
There tends to be a noticeable lift in intensity around this stage of the Tasman premier club rugby season.
It's all well and good competing against your respective sub-union opposition on a weekly basis, but add a touch of interprovincial flavour to the mix and suddenly the heat increases.
The Tasman Trophy kicks off this weekend with Nelson Bays' six club sides scheduled to square off against their Marlborough counterparts over six weeks of round robin play, followed by semifinals and the final scheduled for Queen's Birthday Weekend on Monday, June 5.
Last year's Tasman Trophy champions, Nelson, had been tracking nicely until Monday's loss to Wanderers, their first of the season. Nelson still secured the Moller Cup for the first round of the Nelson Bays sub-union competition, but won't quite be at full strength for Saturday's clash with a vastly improved Renwick at the Renwick Domain.
Nelson's New Zealand Under-20 player Tima Faingaanuku will be missing for at least the next three rounds while he competes at the Oceania Under-20 tournament on Australia's Gold Coast.
But depending on the Crusaders' injury situation, Nelson should have their dynamic flanker Ethan Blackadder back in harness after he was called into the Crusaders squad as injury cover for this week's training in Christchurch. Blackadder was a conspicuous absentee from Monday's loss to Wanderers at Neale Park.
Waimea Old Boys will be thankful for their home ground advantage at Jubilee Park against a tough Moutere side led by a rugged set of forwards.
Like Waimea, Moutere have suffered only one loss this season and shared first round honours in the Marlborough sub-union competition. Waimea coincidentally opened last year's series with a win over Moutere, with this season's significantly improved form arguably leaving them better equipped to deal with what's likely to be one of their biggest challenges of the season so far.
Marist host a Harlequins side yet to record a win so far this season, with Marist likely to have too much firepower among their backs at Tahunanui.
Marist have been one of several teams affected by early season injuries, but at their best have looked full of confidence and enterprise.
Kahurangi are at home to the perennially formidable Waitohi in Motueka, with Waitohi another team to have only lost once this season.
Their sizeable forward pack could be Kahurangi's biggest problem, although talented No 10 Tom O'Malley has also been sparking a useful set of backs.
Wanderers are steadily gathering momentum although the arrival of former Nelson and Tasman Makos fullback Robbie Malneek has also seen their first round opponent, Central, spark into life after a slow start.
They meet at Lansdowne Park in Blenheim where Wanderers will be determined to kick on from their confidence-boosting win over Nelson.
Stoke are a much better side than their 0-5 record suggests and will be totally committed to securing their first win of the season against a struggling East Coast team at Nayland College.
Marist v Harlequins, Tahunanui, 3pm, referee: G Reilly; Central v Wanderers, Lansdowne Park, 3pm, referee: D Woodhouse; Renwick v Nelson, Renwick Domain, 3pm, referee: K Mckenzie; WOB v Moutere, Jubilee Park, 3pm, referee: V Wylie; Kahurangi v Waitohi, Sportspark Motueka, 3pm, referee: M Lash; Stoke v East Coast, Nayland College, 3pm, referee: S James.
Nelson Bays leading pointscorers: Eli Kneepkens (WOB) 72, Willy Havili (Nelson) 62; tryscorers: Sam Chamberlain (Stoke) 6, Isaiah Miller (Nelson) 5, Mo Tau (WOB) 5.