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The battle for the top four begins in earnest tomorrow, as five of the six clubs fight it out for the semifinals with four rounds remaining.
Athletic Marist, still chasing its first win of the season, has the almost impossible task of needing to win all of its final four games against Old Boys, Valley, Maheno and Kurow to have any chance of playing in the semifinals.
Its opponent tomorrow, Old Boys, will be coming off its third loss for the season last week - to Kurow - and will be out to beat Athletic Marist in what may be a closer contest, if the maroon and golds can get a team on the paddock.
Excelsior and Valley, the top two clubs at the moment, will meet on number two ground, while in what should be another tight contest Kurow, just five points away from the top four, hosts fourth-placed Maheno.
Maheno has been strengthened by the arrival of players from the Southern club in Dunedin for the final round of Citizens Shield.
Loosehead prop Michael Mata'afa and outside back Josh Buchan, who played for North Otago last season as the player of origin, have joined Maheno, along with another Southern player, Josh Clark.
Clark has been playing and coaching the Maheno side with Jason Forrest. By joining a North Otago club before the end of May, Mata'afa and Buchan automatically become bona fide North Otago players.
Maheno sits in fourth place in Citizens Shield rugby but only by five points from Kurow, which after its win over Old Boys last weekend will be full of confidence to make the playoffs as it did last season.
Top tryscorers among the clubs are Valley (56), Excelsior (52), Maheno (42), Old Boys (42), Kurow (33) and Athletic Marist (26).
Meanwhile, there has been one change to North Otago's Heartland programme. The game against Wairarapa-Bush will now be played on Friday, August 30, at Forsyth Barr Stadium. It will be the curtainraiser to the Ranfurly Shield challenge between Otago and Manawatu.
- Terry O'Neill