Leaders Oriental-Rongotai can officially qualify for the Jubilee Cup semi-finals with a fortnight to spare, while it's the last throw of the dice as far as this year's playoffs go for winless trio Upper Hutt, Hutt Old Boys Marist and Petone in this week's fifth round set of Jubilee Cup matches in Wellington.
With three rounds to play ahead of the Jubilee Cup semi-finals on 4 August, unbeaten Ories, five points clear at the top on 19, are just a win away from booking their place in the championship rounds, while below them a real dogfight is unfolding for the other three spots with four teams clustered together between 11-14 points.
With Ories seemingly assured of a playoff spot, and probably a home semi-final berth too, it is likely that four teams - Marist St. Pat's, Wainuiomata, Norths and Tawa - will be chasing three semi-final spots over the remaining three rounds.
Strugglers Upper Hutt, HOBM and Petone are not out of it yet but they will need to win their last three games, preferably with bonus points, and rely on current fourth and fifth placed Norths and Tawa losing two of their last three round-robin matches to have a chance.
In the Hardham Cup, joint leaders Old Boys University and Poneke will sew up the two home semi-final berths with a fortnight to spare if they each win their fifth consecutive round-robin games this weekend against ‘B' teams.
This effectively leaves the rest of the field still alive for this weekend at least chasing the remaining two Hardham Cup playoff spots, while the promotion-relegation tussle between the Wests Roosters, Rimutaka and Johnsonville is set to intensify.
This week's feature matches see Jubilee Cup leaders Ories travel to Porirua Park to play fourth placed Northern United and Johnsonville host Rimutaka at Helston Park in the Hardham Cup at 3.00pm.
In a replay of last year's Jubilee Cup final, both Ories and Norths go into this clash particularly eager for victory. Ories are seeking their fifth straight Jubilee Cup round-robin win and seventh straight win overall and Norths are wanting victory to consolidate their top four position and avoid a dogfight for the semi-finals heading into the business end of the season.
Ories, who beat Norths 40-18 in last year's final, are gunning for their fourth consecutive win over Norths in Premier rugby. Ories won their first round clash for the Alex To'omaga Alex Iona Memorial Cup 22-16. Last week Ories powered past Petone 55-18, scoring several scintillating tries such as the like that fans have come to expect from Norths over the past several years. Norths bounced back from a previous loss to Tawa to beat HOBM 31-18.
With away matches to come against Petone and Wainuiomata, this could be Norths' last home match of the year. As well as beating HOBM there last week, Norths toppled MSP 31-10 at home in round two. In their two Jubilee Cup matches at Porirua so far, Norths have outscored their opposition nine tries to three. The Johnsonville-Rimutaka match in the Hardham Cup has the makings of a virtual promotion-relegation battle.
Both are coming off losses to ‘B' teams in the weekend and neither can afford defeat to the other or they could slip behind in the race to secure the one spot up for grabs in next year's Swindale Shield.The West Rooster are Johnsonville and Rimutaka's rival for the Swindale Shield in 2013, and the Roosters will be favoured to win their round five match against winless Norths B at Porirua Park at 1.15pm.
After one year up in the Premier ranks, Rimutaka are desperate to build on their experience and develop further in 2013, while Johnsonville are aiming for a return to Swindale Shield rugby for the first time since 2010.Defeat for the loser wouldn't be the end of their run, but it would leave that team needing to win their last two matches and relying on other teams losing.
In other round five Jubilee Cup matches this week, Marist St Pat's meets Petone at Evans Bay Park, HOBM and Wainuiomata clash on the Hutt Rec and Tawa and Upper Hutt do battle at Lyndhurst Park. All are massive matches. Second placed MSP can remain firmly on track for the semi-finals and at the same time knock Petone out of the running if they win, as can Wainuiomata over HOBM. Tawa can knock Upper Hutt out and climb to as high as second after the weekend's round if other results all go their way.
MSP fans will target their encounter against Petone as a key clash, with games against Wainuiomata (home) and Ories (away) to come. They will also be out to reverse their first round 16-22 Bill Elvy Memorial Trophy loss to them at the Petone Rec in the last round of the Swindale Shield - a match that clinched Petone's Jubilee Cup berth.Wainuiomata will meet a desperate HOBM side who beat them 24-11 in the last week of the Swindale Shield to collect the first round title, while Tawa will see their last home match of the round and possibly the season as a must-win against Upper Hutt whom they lost 20-34 to at the start of May.
In other two round five Hardham Cup matches, Poneke and Old Boys University supporters will expect fifth consecutive bonus point wins from their teams. Poneke plays MSP B at Evans Bay Park at 1.15pm and OBU plays Wainuiomata B at the Hawkins Basin Reserve at 3.00pm.
In Senior 1 Ed Chaney Cup fifth fixtures, frontrunners and unbeaten Petone play fourth placed Poneke at 1.15pm in the round five feature match.
Second placed Avalon plays fifth placed HOBM a the Hutt Rec at 1.15pm, third placed Wellington and seventh placed OBU meet at Martin Luckie Park at 1.15pm and sixth placed Tawa and eighth placed Upper Hutt square off in the Jubilee Cup curtain-raiser at Lyndhurst Park.
Supporters of HOBM's third XV can hope for a fifth consecutive victory against eighth placed Avalon at the Hutt Rec 2 at 3.00pm with four rounds still to play after this in the Senior 2 HD Morgan Memorial competition.With three wins each from four matches, MSP and Petone square off on Kilbirnie 2 at 1.15pm, while third placed OBU play fifth placed Stokes Valley at Martin Luckie Park at 3.00pm and in two Senior 2 matches involving teams from the bottom half of the draw, Poneke and Ories meet on Kilbirnie 1 at 3.00pm and Norths and Wests play on the top field at Porirua Park at 3.00pm.
There's three rounds to play in the women's Victoria Tavern Trophy before the semi-finals. Leaders Norths will probably book the first of two home semi-final positions with a fortnight to spare if they win this week, while fifth placed Ories can leapfrog Eketahuna into fourth place if they also prevail.In the three Premier round eight Women's matches this Saturday, Norths (on 30 points) host Eketahuna (13) at Porirua Park, Wainuiomata (26) and Old Boys University (24) battle it out in Wainuiomata and Ories (9) play Stokes Valley (2) at the Polo Ground. All women's matches are at 11.30am.
The Premier 1 First XV competition cools its heels for another week, before starting up again next Wednesday with the traditional fixture between St Pat's Town and St. Pat's Silverstream.