Counties Manukau first up for Otago in NPC

A trip to Pukekohe will open Otago’s NPC season this year.

The team faces Counties Manukau in its first game on Saturday, August 6.

It then returns home for games against Tasman and Hawke’s Bay, the following Saturday and Wednesday respectively, at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

The Tasman home opener will act as a double-header with the Otago Spirit also facing Tasman in the Farah Palmer Cup.

It will be the first season of a new competition format, in which the Premiership and Championship divisions have been scrapped.

Instead the 14 teams have been split in odds and evens groups.

Each team will play all the teams in their group, as well as four crossover matches from the other group.

The top four teams in each group will then play off in quarterfinals for spots in the semifinals against the other group.

Otago falls into the odds pool — based off its runner-up, ninth-placed, finish in the Championship last season.

It faces Waikato, Hawke’s Bay, Bay of Plenty, Wellington, Southland and Counties Manukau in its group.

Tasman, Auckland, Canterbury and Manawatu are its crossover matches.

It completes what has potential to be a tough draw for Otago, facing each of the top four teams from last year’s Premiership.

The final is scheduled for October 22.

The Farah Palmer Cup will begin three weeks earlier, although the Otago Spirit will have to wait until the second week for the Championship division to begin.

It starts its season against Hawke’s Bay in Napier, on Saturday July 23.

It will play its home opener a week later, against Northland.

The final is scheduled for September 11.

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