This Saturday's ninth round set of Swindale Shield matches loom large for several clubs hoping to settle inside the 'top 7' to contest the Jubilee Cup from June, and for those teams at the head of the table with ambitions on winning this year's first-round title.
As such, at least five of seven of these weekend's games could have a direct bearing on the fortunes of other clubs, so it's a big day of club rugby coming up before the Hurricanes take on the Lions at night.
It's also Old Timers' Day for Oriental-Rongotai at the Polo Ground, where all past and present players and supporters are encouraged to watch their side take on Petone and attend the clubrooms for a drink and a meal afterwards.
There are two Swindale Shield games on radio tomorrow. Gordon Noble-Campbell and Darren Larsen are calling the match on Kilbirnie Park between Poneke and Wainuiomata for RadIo Sport at 1503AM, while Adam Julian is at Maidstone Park for Te Upoko 1161M for the Upper Hutt Rams versus Marist St Pat's fixture.
Hutt Old Boys Marist v Tawa
Venue: Hutt Rec
Referee: Dane Robinson
The Eagles suffered their first defeat in 2018 last Saturday when they trailed all the way, but fought hard with a depleted forward pack against MSP.
Tawa are suddenly surging. After surprising OBU they amassed the biggest score of the season when they trounced Johnsonville 75-7. Kyle Preston impressed by scoring two tries.
Tawa are five points clear of the relegation zone and with many of the teams in that section of the table yet to play off a win for Tawa maintaining that buffer could go a long way towards getting them into the Jubilee Cup again.
This match features two of the form front rowers of the competition, Ben Power for HOBM and Sitiveni Paongo for Tawa.
Matches are typically close with the last four split two each.
Johnsonville v Old Boys University
Venue: Helston Park
Referee: Greg Binning
OBU have scored 40 or more points in five games this season and will be odds-on to achieve this against pointless Johnsonville who conceded 75 against Tawa seven days ago.
Last year's Goats team MVP Daven Candy returns from injury for this one, while Dale Sabbagh has moved back into first-five after a spell at fullback.
New hooker Nate Vella, a former Auckland and Canterbury player, is one to watch to Johnsonville. With him, lock Api Naikatini and No. 8 Kane Thompson, their pack has the experience to give the Goats a hurry up.
Northern United v Avalon Wolves
Venue: Jerry Collins Stadium
Referee: Corey Eggers
Avalon have blown three large leads to lose winnable games in 2018, including a 23-14 advantage against Upper Hutt in Round 8.
Norths have won four in a row and scored 88 points in their last two games so they might give the Wolves a sniff if that form continues.
Nesse Solia moves from the loose forwards to lock for this one, while Avalon lock Akuila Alatini scored a try against the Rams and is enjoying regular minutes.
Oriental-Rongotai v Petone
Venue: Polo Ground
Referee: Mike Pinfold
Ories are seven points outside the top seven and simply have to win to keep alive their hopes of making the Jubilee Cup.
Ories started slowly against Poneke, slumping to a 15-0 deficit before coming back to almost win. Ories' best rugby is very good, but large slumps have been costly.
Petone have had much the same problem which makes this game intriguing. Halfback Logan Henry scored 16 of the Villagers 26 points in the Wainuiomata draw while Adam Deck starts this one for Ories. Prop Xavier Numuia also returns for Ories, as does outside back Malo Tuitama whose name popped up on a Blues Development teamsheet last week. Petone welcome back captain and flanker Mateaki Kafatolu from injury.
The Jim Brown Memorial Trophy named after the famous Wellington second-five is at stake. Petone are the holders after a 6-3 win in 2016. The 2017 match was drawn 25-25. The last meeting between the two clubs though was won by Ories 19-12 in the Jubilee Cup.
Poneke v Wainuiomata
Venue: Kilbirnie Park
Referee: Blair Barclay
Wainuiomata are four points outside the top seven so need a win to stay in the Jubilee Cup race against Poneke who are the surprise package of 2018 sitting at 6-2 after a raft of off field dramas.
Greg Foe will again be a key figure for Poneke, while Peter Umaga-Jensen plays on the wing for Wainuiomata in this one. In the backs John Monu played a blinder for Wainuiomata against Petone and Poneke's Nick Robertson has scored 20 tries in his last 22 appearances.
The Hakaraia Trophy won 39-28 by Wainuiomata last year is on the line.
Upper Hutt Rams v Marist St Pat's
Venue: William Jones Park
Referee: Jordan Price
Upper Hutt-haven't beaten MSP in 25 matches, stretching back to 2002. Upper Hutt's last Swindale Shield or Jubilee Cup win over MSP was in May 2002 when they won 29-19 at Maidstone Park.
The closest Upper Hutt have got to MSP in this time has been a pair of one-point losses in 2005 (2005 being the Rams only loss in the Swindale Shield which they won that season) and 2007.
Last year MSP won 25-7 in Round 3 of the Swindale Shield.
The Rams have won four in a row and need to keep winning to remain in the hunt for the Jubilee Cup so motivation isn't lacking, but do they have the quality to knock over the Catholics who put 50 on Petone on ANZAC Day and stopped the Eagles unbeaten run?
Upper Hutt will have to be better defensively and improve their accuracy in the set-piece. Watch for the in-form Tom Horan (MSP) and Josh Houston-Tupou (Upper Hutt).
Wellington v Paremata-Plimmerton
Venue: William Jones Park
Referee: Jordan Price
This should be a willing bottom of the table tussle between two sides that've showed improvement in their last two games. Paremata-Plimmerton have scored four tries against both Wainuiomata and Norths while the hosts beat Avalon and put 31 past OBU in a spirited defeat.
Both sides have been able to field settled packs recently. Cam Keech has been durable for the Axemen and Paremata-Plimmerton loose forwards never stop tackling. Paremata-Plimmerton also has Hurricanes halfback Richard Judd for this one.
Northern United are the early season pace-setters in the first round Rebecca Liua'ana Trophy but have the bye this weekend, allowing Paremata-Plimmerton or Marist St Pat's to temporarily draw level with them on the table this Saturday.
Paremata-Plimmerton and MSP both have two wins from three and they meet in town in this weekend's feature match.
Oriental-Rongotai should account for Hutt Old Boys Marist, but won't have it their own way like last week over Poneke. HOBM won well over Avalon in round three, they will defend well and have backs that will threaten if given front foot ball. Amanda Rasch plays here 50th match for Ories.
The OBU Impalas have started their season with two losses and then a week off with their bye, so they will be hoping to get their season away with a win over Poneke at Te Whaea. In one match in the Hutt, the Avalon She-Wolves host the Petone Ponies in a key match for these two sides with 1-2 records so far.
Premier Reserve, Colts and lower grades
Northern United and Marist St Pat's are the two unbeaten teams at the top of the Premier Reserve Harper Lock Shield standings, and both are favoured to extend their winning runs in round nine. Norths play Avalon (two wins) and MSP play the Upper Hutt Rams (four wins).
Likewise, third-placed Poneke will stay in touch if they beat Wainuiomata (one win), while the game between fourth-placed Petone (six wins) and sixth places Ories (four wins) could be the most competitive of the round.
The Les Mills Colts grade gets underway this evening with Division 2 games at Alex Moore and Fraser Parks,with all four Division 1 Paris Memorial Trophy encounters on Saturday. Unbeaten MSP can make it four on the trot if they beat the Upper Hutt Rams at Maidstone, while Petone play Norths on Porirua 2, Ories play host to OBU Green on Polo 2 and HOBM Green and Tawa meet on the Hutt Rec 2.
The two Stokes Valley teams collide on Delany Park in the fifth round of the First Grade Thompson Memorial, while OBU can stretch their lead over second-placed Petone who have the bye when they play third-placed HOBM on the Hutt Rec 2 at 2.45pm.
Unbeaten through two rounds, Johnsonville play last year's beaten finalists Avalon at Fraser Park as part of the U85kg Restricted JC Bowl, whilst unbeaten Eastbourne has a seaside clash with winless the HOBM Howlers.
All four OBU teams have home games at Kelburn and Nairnville Parks in the Reserve Grade Mike Copeland Trophy. All four are behind early pacesetters, both the Upper Hutt Rams J8s and the Upper Hutt Rams Thirsty Rams, who play each other at Maidstone Park 2 at 2.45pm.