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University (51 points) has a six-point lead at the top of the competition standings and is through to the playoffs, although a poindexter with a calculator may dare to differ. Southern (44 points), Taieri (43 points), Harbour (42 points) and Kaikorai (40 points) are locked in a tight battle for the remaining three playoff spots. Dunedin is still clinging on to hope with 34 points, but will need some luck to force its way into the semifinals.
Next drawer down
Southern and Taieri have a game in hand and you can probably pencil them in for your top four. The Eels have a tough few weeks ahead. They play University for the Challenge Shield tomorrow and Kaikorai at Bishopscourt the following week. But even if they drop those two matches, Taieri should be too strong for Alhambra-Union and Zingari-Richmond in its final two round-robin games.
Southern does not have an easy run, either. It will host Kaikorai at Bathgate Park tomorrow and the Demons have strung together four consecutive wins, including a tense 31-30 win against the vastly improved Green Island.
The defending champion can bank on five points in their last match against Zingari-Richmond, but the fixture against Dunedin shapes as a banana skin and Southern also has to play University.
Three into one
Harbour tripped itself up in the opening weeks of the tournament with some lacklustre performances but on form certainly deserve to feature in the semifinals. The Hawks' opening 40 minutes against Taieri last weekend was arguably the most clinical performance by any team this year. They have more powerful ball carriers than any other side in the competition and all that front foot ball has given a serviceable backline a dream run. Its game against Kaikorai in the last round could decide which of those two teams makes it through.
If Kaikorai gets through, it will have earned a spot the hard way with games against Southern and Taieri as well.
As for Dunedin, well, it is hard to see the club winning its last three games, which it will need to do to make the playoffs. It has a bye this weekend followed by games against Southern, Harbour and Green Island.
Green Island 42. University 10. That about sums it up. The men from Miller Park are a much better side than their position on the competition standings suggests. With wins against Southern, Harbour and University this season, they ought to be in contention for the playoffs. But an inability to pick up bonus points has left the team languishing in the bottom half. At full strength, Green Island has a formidable pack but a workman-like backline. With a little bit more razzle-dazzle next year, it could threaten the top four. It can still have a big impact this season with a win against Harbour at Watson Park tomorrow. It can also finish well, with winnable games against Alhambra-Union, Zingari-Richmond and Dunedin.
Alhambra-Union has had its share of heartbreak, with close losses to Green Island, Southern and Dunedin. There are three wins which got away. Its forward pack made big strides but the back play went backwards. It will need to recruit well to be in the picture next season.
Zingari-Richmond peaked week one, when it beat Harbour 25-15 to claim the Challenge Shield. The second round has been an enormous struggle and last weekend's 79-12 loss to Dunedin lowered the odds of the Colours joining Pirates on the sidelines.
What is the point of the playoffs?
After slugging it out for 16 rounds the best four sides will find themselves scrambling to fill positions with Otago-contracted players whipped away to prepare for National Provincial Championship. If the best players are not involved, is it still the climax of the season? It needs to be sorted out for next year. Either the club window is cut by two weeks or the provincial preparations are delayed. Failing that, maybe just ditch the playoffs. The English Premier League does not need semifinals and a final.
What! No Kick For Touch this week?
Sorry. The Godfather of Dunedin club rugby, Mr Paul Dwyer, is chilling by the pool in Fiji for the next two weeks. We will do our very best to mention the Tool Box, the Crayfish Emporium and the Pony Pit as often as possible - whatever they mean.