With the Bartercard Cup well and truly underway there are some exciting match ups this weekend in round three.
The match of the day on Saturday, and perhaps the match of the round, is between Northcote Tigers and Mt Albert Lions.
Both teams would have been disappointed with their 2001 seasons. However they have already shown the rest of the competition that they mean business this year and are two of the four unbeaten teams after two rounds of the competition.
The other two teams sharing the points are the 2001 Premiers, Hibiscus Coast, and Wellington.
Mt Albert will enjoy the home ground advantage with the game being played at Fowlds Park with a 2.30 pm kick off.
The Tigers will be backing up after a very good win over the Glenora Bears last Sunday. In a match that pitted together two teams who had surprise victories in round 1, the Tigers had the advantage throughout the match, although the Bears, who were down by 6 - 22 managed to come within two points midway through the second spell, only to see the Tigers overcome a heavy penalty count against them to run away with it in the final quarter.
It was a fine effort by all the Tigers team, although once again it was the strong running of the Tigers centres, Lamond Copestake, with two tries, and Harry Aonga, that made the difference.
They were also well served by the halves combination of Jared Trott and Ken McIntosh who cleverly controlled play. Trott's kicking was a decisive factor with some excellent tactical kicking and five successful kicks at goal.
The Lions staged a remarkable come from behind win against the Eastern Tornadoes. Also faced with a lopsided penalty count in the first half of the game, they found themselves behind at the break by 6 - 24.
However the second half saw mostly one-way traffic as the Lions put on fifty points to finish up 56 - 28 victors.
Stand-off Steve Buckingham was in great form and controlled the game in the second half with accurate kicking and some fine passing to see his side score 8 tries to 1 in that spell. He also kicked 10 goals in the match.
The Lions welcomed back one time Warrior Peter Lewis, who has spent some time playing in France. Lewis picked up two of those tries.
Hutch Maiava was a standout performer doing the hard yards up front and was well supported by Fue Fue Moi Moi who can always be relied on to put on a strong display of power running.
So by about four o'clock Saturday one of these two teams is likely to remain unbeaten.
They'll be fairly evenly matched across the paddock though the Lions look to have the advantage up front.
In what should be an entertaining match, I think the Lions will benefit from the home ground advantage and will be the most likely winners.
Other games on Saturday see Marist Richmond at home to Otahuhu (Murray Halberg Park 2.30 pm), while Manurewa and the Eastern tornadoes face off at Ericsson Stadium as curtain raiser to the Warriors versus Melbourne Storm.
Otahuhu went down to Wellington last week in what was a bit of an upset.
The Leopards looked quite effective the week before against the Raiders, until they ran out of gas. They looked the same against Wellington and will have to do some hard work to get themselves into better condition if they have any expectations to be one of the teams at the top end of the ladder.
The Marist Richmond Brothers wasted a lot of opportunities against the Raiders but stuck to their task well enough, although the Raiders were playing well below their best.
It's a bit hard to pick this one but I think the Brothers may be able to run the Leopards around a bit. If they stay in touch during the early part of the game I think they'll outlast their opponents and pick up another two points leaving the Leopards languishing on the bottom rung.
The Tornadoes have lead both their first two games played so far at the half time break only to be outplayed during the second spell.
There are going to have to play a smarter game or else they too will fail to live up to early predictions.
They do have a bit of pace out wide but seem to insist on playing a power game. They need to adopt a different approach to realise their potential.
Manurewa Marlins have only managed a solitary point after their first two games when they fought back from a 12-point deficit at the break in their game against the Taranaki wildcats to eventually draw 18 apiece.
The Marlins have started as favourites in both their games to date so they must be a little disappointed that they too have yet to live up to early expectations.
They have a couple of rugby recruits in the ranks. Robert Fa'amoe is an ex number 8 North Harbour rep. now packing his big frame in the front row.
He's said to possess some great inside defence so it'll be interesting to see how he copes with the change of code. Centre Andrew Williams has also showed some early promise and he'll be well tested on Saturday against the Tornadoes.
It's difficult to pick the winner of this one as both teams have yet to perform to their best. Super-sub Kurt Pittman, coming off the bench last week to score a try and kick three goals in their second half comeback, could make the difference as the Tornadoes tire.
I'll stick my neck out and predict a narrow win to the Marlins. However that'll depend on some of the experienced players playing up to their best.
The feature match on Sunday sees the Hibiscus Coast Raiders at home to the Canterbury Bulls. The Bulls had a big win last week when they put on 54 points against the Central Falcons who managed 20.
The Falcons held the Bulls to 16 - 14 at half time only to see the Bulls make no race of it in the second spell.
The Raiders performance last week against the Brothers was only average in terms of what they normally offer. At home at Stanmore Bay they'll no doubt raise their performance.
They've also not been able to start their preferred starting lining up yet and may still be a week or two away before they can do that.
However the ability that this side has means that they can still manage to get through games with wins without playing their best.
Standout players last week were Anthony Seu Seu and Brendon Soloman, while Regan Wigg has been showing his versatility alternating between loose forward and hooker. That versatility and his current form are quite likely to see him gain representative honours later in the year.
Sean Ata is another playing well following his move into the centres from his customary wing position while Steve Matthews is playing in the second row.
For the Bulls it'll be a big test for them as they have a lot of new players in their squad. They'll be pleased with last week's performance but Sunday will see how they really stack up.
The Raiders are likely to be twenty point winners.
Wellington has another home game on Sunday when they host the Central Falcons. Wellington remains unbeaten following their surprise win over the Leopards last week.
This will be something of a local derby with a number of the Falcons having previously played for Wainuiomata.
For Wellington, players to watch are Wesley Henry from the champion Randwick club and prop forward Fa'aaliga Saumolia, also a Randwick stalwart.
It was Saumolia who scored the winning try against the Leopards after he took an intercept in his own half and raced away for the touchdown.
He has been something of a revelation for coach Gerard Stokes who hadn't initially selected him in his squad but after some standout performances in trial matches he has now forced his way into the starting lineup and he's repaid his coach in the best way possible.
Another standout was fullback Lusi Sione. The ex Canterbury Bulls fullback has followed coach Stokes North. For religious reasons Sione doesn't usually play on Saturdays.
However that's only until sunset so he was able to be used from the bench later in the game without compromising his religious beliefs and helped his team to their hard fought win.
The Wellington teams often fail to achieve the level of consistency required to match it with the top teams but they have an excellent opportunity to maintain their position at the top with three wins from three after this week.
If they can maintain their focus I suggest that they'll come away as narrow winners.
The final game sees Taranaki at home to Glenora. With their second home game in succession the Wildcats will be encouraged by the point they got off the Marlins and will go into their third Bartercard Cup match with a lot more confidence.
Against the Bears they'll have to be wary of the big and hard running front rower Joe Pauga, who's getting better with each game, and hooker John Toomes, the scorer of three tries against the Tigers.
The Bears are likely to come away with the win but will find the Wildcats tough nuts to crack on their home turf. They should have LeeTamatoa back on deck this week and he's sure to add some starch to their attack.
The Bears look to be ten point winners.Like