The Haswell Catley Trophy can be decided at Waikato University today in a Waikato premier club rugby top-of-the-table clash that will feature two near-full-strength teams.
New World Te Rapa University got the jump on OTC/Freightlines Otorohanga last week, moving four points clear at the top of the table with two weekends of play remaining in the regular season.
University's 36-15 victory over Fraser-Tech last week, combined with Otorohanga's 34-15 loss to Hamilton Marist, gave the students the opening and now they can wrap up the round-robin silverware a week early if they win on the home ground today against last year's championship runners-up.
If they do it that would be the first time University have won the Haswell Catley Trophy and the first time they have qualified for the championship semifinals since 2002, and the first time they have made it as top seed.
University will have three of their New Zealand Under-20 players - first five-eighth Damian McKenzie and front rowers Tau Koloamatangi and Hame Faiva - back in their starting lineup, which is led by flanker Whetu Barber.
But they are without Waikato lock Dave Morgan, who is injured, as well as other NZ U-20 players Atu Moli, who is away on a one-week post Junior World Championship stand-down and Anton Lienert-Brown, who is injured.
Otorohanga have in-form fullback Te Amo Willbore back after missing last week's defeat due to family commitments in Opotiki, while centre DJ Collier only managed 20 minutes off the bench last week while returning from a shoulder injury but is back to full fitness this week and is starting.
Prop Ted Tauroa returned from injury via the club's B side last week and will be on the bench today, ready to make an impact.
Otorohanga head coach Noel Barber said youngster Chris Lord, in his first year out of high school, had been retained at first five-eighth despite not making the most of first use of the wind against Marist last Saturday.
"Just having DJ back this week in the midfield alongside Joe Perawiti brings a lot of experience and they will be talking more to our young 10," Barber said.
Barber said Willbore brought good decision making and good talk from the back to the No 15 jersey.
But the biggest thing the coach is after is an 80-minute performance, which has been missing so far this season.
"The last time we played [University] it was a game of two halves - they pretty much took control of the first half and we took control of the second.
"We haven't played a solid 80 minutes of football yet. We've been talking about it in recent weeks but we haven't done it yet.
"We've just got to put everything together, trust each other and just go ahead and do it," Barber said.
The players were all aware it was the business end of the season and up for today's match.
"We don't want to be runners-up, we want to go all the way," he said.
In other matches third-placed The Bank Hamilton Old Boys trek across Seddon Rd to play rivals Shenanigans Fraser-Tech, while the other member of the top four, Lodge City Rentals Hamilton Marist, travel out of Hamilton to Albert Park to play Ecolab Te Awamutu Sports.
Other matches see TDO Melville host APL Direct Hautapu and Seafood Bazaar at home to Nottingham Castle Morrinsville Sports in matches key to the promotion-relegation scramble at the bottom of the table.
- Waikato Times
How excited are you about the 2014 Commonwealth Games?Related story: After the hype, time to let the Games begin