After a captivating last set of round-robin fixtures, the NPC enters its business end with the knockout phase getting underway this coming weekend.
There are some absolute belting fixtures in store as well with North Harbour and Auckland opening up proceedings in what should be a derby for the ages, while Sunday’s clash between Waikato and Bay of Plenty should deliver the goods as well.
Friday 7 October
North Harbour 1/1 | Draw 21/1 | Auckland 84/100 (08:05)
It’s the Auckland derby first up with North Harbour playing host to Auckland. The hosts enjoyed a brilliant round-robin phase finishing second on the Evens Conference with six wins from their 10 fixtures.
Their opponents for this weekend recorded an identical record during the round-robin phase but ended two points adrift of North Harbour due to Harbour picking up more bonus points.
Both sides finished their round-robin campaigns on high notes last weekend with Auckland beating Taranaki 38-24 while North Harbour registered an 8-66 victory over tournament whipping boys, Southland.
When the two sides met during the round-robin phase Auckland were the ones to win the derby as they ran out 36-26 victors in a hotly contested game.
This should be a closely-fought encounter with both sides producing some excellent rugby this season. I’m leaning toward Auckland, however. Their round-robin phase win over Harbour swings things in their favour.
Saturday 8 October
Wellington 41/100 | Draw 23/1 | Hawke’s Bay 2/1 (03:05)
Next up it’s over to the capital where a star-studded Wellington outfit will be looking to get one over a plucky Hawke’s Bay side.
After a slow start to the campaign, the hosts really went through the gears winning their final seven fixtures of the round-robin phase to finish top of the Odds Conference standings.
Hawke’s Bay, on the other hand, dropped off as the season went on and lost two of their final three round-robin fixtures. They managed to salvage a play-off berth, however, with a very cagey 25-17 victory over Tasman this past Friday.
Wellington fared a lot better last weekend closing their round-robin phase out with an emphatic 31-64 victory over Counties Manukau.
I’m all over Wellington here. They’ve peaked at just the right time and should win this minimal fuss.
Canterbury 1/14 | Draw 40/1 | Northland 7/1 (05:35)
Onto our third quarter-final now which will see Canterbury take on Northland at the OrangeTheory Stadium.
The hosts, as usual, had a very solid round-robin phase finishing first in the Evens Conference with nine wins from their ten fixtures. Their only defeat came in Round 3 where they had an off day going down 16-10 to Taranaki.
Northland, while not as all-conquering as their opponents for Saturday, enjoyed a solid time of it during the round-robin phases winning six of their 10 games to finish fourth.
In terms of their most recent results, Canterbury bookended their round-robin phase by beating Otago 21-27 in an extremely attritional fixture, while Northland breezed to a 41-24 victory over Manawatu.
The hosts will have far too much about them for this Northland side whom they beat 46-17 during the round-robin phase. I can see Canterbury winning this one by at least 16 points.
Sunday 9 October
Waikato 57/100 | Draw 20/1 | Bay of Plenty 31/20 (03:05)
Our final game of the weekend will see Waikato play host to Bay of Plenty.
The hosts finished second on the Odds Conference, winning seven and drawing one of their ten fixtures. They ended their round-robin phase campaign on a high note as they beat their opponents for this weekend 35-34 last Sunday. So the Physiological advantage resides with the hosts.
Speaking of their last clash, it was an absolute thriller of a fixture with a late flurry of tries from Waikato seeing them overturn Bay of Plenty’s 20-odd point second-half lead.
I expect the Mooloo men to have a much faster start this week. The game could well be tight but I expect the hosts to get the job done.