It started with 12 teams back on April the 16th, now we are down to the top five teams in 2004. On Saturday the defending champions Canterbury Bulls take on North Harbour Tigers, in a do or die match with the loser being eliminated.
The match has already been over shadowed by the inclusion of Warriors full back Brent Webb from the Vodafone Warriors into the Tigers team. Webb, who has been dropped to Bartercard Cup for an incident during last weekend, will be a major factor that could be the difference between the two teams. For the Bulls, they lose promising prop forward Kane Ferris, who gets his first start off the bench for the Warriors this weekend against the Roosters.
The Bulls have struggled to win away from home this year, wining only three of their nine games away from Christchurch - with all three wins against sides out of the top five. The Bulls went down 34-24 in the only match played between the two teams this year, at North Harbour Stadium. But with two big wins at the end of the regular season, the Bulls will be full of confidence and will be looking to defend their Championship.
The Tigers have also had two good wins running into the finals, and no doubt will be the favourites with the inclusion of Brent Webb in their side.
Players to watch: Bulls: Simon Wallace Tigers: Jarrod Trott
The second match of the weekend will see Otahuhu take on Mt Albert Lions in the curtain raiser to the Warriors match on Sunday. Otahuhu have will have the services of Kiwi International Thomas Leuluai, and will be looking towards the teenager for inspiration to progress to the next round. Both teams have met twice before this year, with the honours being sheared one a piece. Most recently the Lions scored a narrow 26-24 victory on national TV.
The Lions will be hurting after last weeks belting from Wellington on home soil. The Bartercard Cup 2002 champions, have been here many times before, and will no doubt look to use the speed on the wings to expose the Otahuhu line. The Lions have one major advantage in half Steve Buckingham?s kicking game. By far the best in the competition, his kicking dual between Leuluai could be the difference between the teams come fulltime.
Otahuhu have been in good form of late, and have arguably the best wing/centre combination in the Bartercard Cup. The Fisi'ahi twins they have scored 28 tries between them this year, and are something the Lions will have to watch carefully. Though the loser will not be eliminated, they will take on the winner of the Bulls vs Tigers match, while the winner will take on minor premiers Marist Richmond Brothers.
Players to watch: Otahuhu: Thomas Leuluai Lions: Steve Buckingham
Nth Harbour Tigers vs Canterbury Bulls , Ericsson 2 , Saturday 28/08/2004, 2.30pm Kick Off
Nth Harbour Tigers B. Webb, T. Samoa, K. Johnson, L. Copstake, N. Roberts, J. Roberts, J. Golf, J. Trott, J. Duff, D. Glasgow, D. Briggs, J. Kamirera, D. Vasau (reserves) T. Ah - Voa, A. Aulkafalau, G. MacPherson, R. Colley
Coach - K. Benson / K. McIntosh
Canterbury Bulls J. McDonald, P. McDonald, R. Martin, C. Fraser,C. Herekotukutuku, A. Harris, J. O'Brien, V. Whare, A. Auimatagi, A. Timo, S. Wallace, J. Manning, C. Lawrie, (reserves) C. Newton, P. Asi, M. Clarkson, B. Taylor
Coach - P. Prescott
Otahuhu Ellerslie vs Mt Albert Lions, Ericsson Stadium 1 (Curtainraiser to the Warriors), Sunday 29/08/2004 11.30am Kick Off
Otahuhu Ellerslie T. Pualini, D. Fisi'ahi, P. Fisi'ahi, J. Tavaga, G. Ruka, J. Yandell, T. Leuluai, S. Faitala, G. Vaafusuaga, A.Fausa, S. Tueafo, F. Nu'uasala, M.Langdon (reserves) R. Johnson, F. Tupou, C. Wetini, T. Frost
Coach - James Leuluai
Mt Albert Lions A. Bauer, M. Manu, R. Godfrey, A. Swann, R. Baxter, S. Buckingham, K. Wright, J. Tau, L. Talamavoa, S. Pouha, R. Wigg, M. Asou, G. Malietoa Brown, (reserves) A. Fungapo, D. Davis, F. Soutar, P. Teniseli
Coach - B. McClennan
Courtesy of: http://www.rugbyleaguenz.com