With the top four sides pitted against each other this weekend’s round will go some way to clarifying how Tasman Tanning Premier rugby’s top sides are really tracking.
Just three points separates Black Bull Liquor Pirates from fourth-placed PGG Wrightson/Ballance Taihape with all four sitting on three wins after four rounds.
The unbeaten Pirates travel north to put the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield on the line against a Taihape side buoyed by an upset win against Ruapehu in Ohakune last week.
Back at the scene of their first loss Ruapehu host Waverley Harvesting Border in a rematch of last year’s grand final in which Ruapehu pipped the South Taranaki side.
Not that revenge is on the mind of Border’s players.
“That’s not even discussed,” coach Ross Williams said. “It’s a different season, different group of players. The talk is just around improving each weekend.”
Border will be the defending champion’s biggest test after Ruapehu began the season with consecutive wins against the bottom three teams before the Taihape loss last week.
On the other side Border have been the steady improvers with three wins on the bounce following their opening-round loss to Pirates.
Williams said it was just as much a test for his side.
“Playing at home makes them a real threat so it’s just an opportunity to test ourselves against the best,” he said.
Williams said they came out of last week’s win against Marist unscathed so had a settled squad for the trip.
“They’ve got skilful backs which makes them dangerous from anywhere in the field. They’re a very balanced football side.”
Williams said his focus was more on his own house.
“We’re just trying to get our game in order. We are improving every week, but we need to because other teams are too.
“We need to make sure that we get quick ball and have patience both on the ball and off it, really.”
Ruapehu assistant Mark Green said being defending champions put a target on their backs and they were wary of the visiting runners-up.
“I suppose everybody’s trying to knock the top dog off their perch,” he said.
“In saying that, there’s only a couple of games that really count and that’s at the end of the season. It’s still anybody’s competition.”
He hoped his side could bounce back from last week’s loss.
“I think we sort of just let ourselves down in that game. We probably lost it more than they won it,” Green said.
“We just weren’t fronting up. We’ve got to get more hungry at the breakdown and give our backs a bit more ball. If we can move the ball we’ve got quite a good backline too, like them.”
Green said while there had been a lot of rain up Ohakune way he hoped for a reasonably dry deck for his side to open up.
“If it doesn’t rain on Saturday it should be all right.”
In other matches Spriggens Park plays host to a mid-table showdown between Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist and Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau.
Both sides have only beaten teams below and will need to win this one to stay in touch with the pack.
There’s as much intrigue at the bottom end of the ladder with Settler’s Honey Ngamatapouri and Harvey Round Motors Ratana stranded on zero points, both 100-plus for and against deficits.
The two square off in Marton in what could be the first battle for the wooden spoon.