The top four playoff teams in the Western Alliance regional rugby league competition have been found with one round remaining.
The Waitara Bears cemented a top-four place along with the Feilding Falcons, Bell Block Marist Dragons and Palmerston North side Kia Ora Warriors.
Still to be confirmed is the playing order and venues. They will be sorted this weekend with the current ranking order being Feilding Falcons, Marist Dragons, Kia Ora Warriors and the Bears.
It appears highly likely the final placings will come down to the points differential with three of the top four locked on 22 points and the Bears two points back next.
The penultimate round robin of play on Saturday was notable for the number of defaulted games, a situation that must be causing organisers concern with the total of defaulted matches now up to seven this season.
The main offender has been the Dannevirke Tigers. The Hawke's Bay side has pulled the pin on three games, the latest on Saturday morning. The Tigers were to play the Normanby/Okaiawa Knights.
The other team to default were the Hawera Hawks, who could not field a premier team for their match against the Marist Dragons.
The Bears woke from their mid-competition slumber to score a convincing 44-16 win against Western Suburbs, effectively blowing any chance the Tigers had of making the playoffs this year.
The Tigers started well with centre Renee McGee crossing for the opening try five minutes after kickoff. However, that sparked the Bears into life.
Waitara soon had control, going out to a 14-4 halftime lead and continuing on the good work in the second half to score eight tries in total.
The Tigers never gave up and were rewarded for their effort with two second-half tries, one coming just before fulltime.
Standout player for the Bears was prop Hemi Rawiri, who remained on the field for the full 80 minutes carrying the ball up strongly and capping a fine all-round performance when scoring two tries.
Centre Caten Street gave the Bears good go forward and defended well throughout.
Waitara head coach Stacey O'Carroll put his side's improved form in the last couple of rounds down to gradually getting back several of his key players from injury, including three of his normal starting lineup.
These were Ziggy Tangira, Corey Balsom, and Pauly Tuuta, who were among the injured in a bad motor vehicle accident early last month.
"Corey had two weeks off and Pauly played his first game in six weeks since the accident," O'Carroll said.
He said Tangira was still sidelined with a cracked cheek bone, which had to be operated on to have a plate inserted.
"Having Pauly back was a big boost for our team on Saturday. The boys have been slowly improving each week and they played really well on Saturday."
The Bears face the No1-ranked and defending champions Feilding Falcons in the final qualifying round on Saturday.
O'Carroll is expecting to field his first choice lineup for the clash at Waitara's Clifton Park, while the Falcons will be fresh having had a week off after having had the bye last weekend.
In the other match played in the latest round, front runners Kia Ora Warriors continued their good form thrashing lowly Linton 60-14 in Palmerston North.
- Taranaki Daily News
Is Ma'a Nonu returning to the Hurricanes ...Related story: Ma'a Nonu's return to Hurricanes confirmed