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4 August 2022
bunnings npc premiership final waikato v tasman
What chance of Ross Filipo’s Mooloos doing the repeat in 2022?

Campbell Burnes sets the scene for the new-look NPC,
the 47th edition of our prized domestic competition.

It’s the age-old question: what is the best format for our NPC? The Heartland Championship slots nicely into its window: one table for two prizes, the Meads and Lochore Cups. There is no impinging on club rugby in this worthy and vital competition. The NPC? From 2011-21 we had two tables for two prizes, the top tier Premiership and the second tier Championship. We counted the crossover wins. They were not as scarce as we might have first thought, averaging about 7-8 per season, but they were gold. It showed there was parity across the board and it was not a true first or second division in the old thinking.

But this format copped a hammering in 2021, mainly from Taranaki coach Neil Barnes, whose team won all four of its crossover games on the way to the Championship title and a rare unbeaten season. Taranaki had some justification for calling itself the best provincial team in the land, but its triumph only gave it a seeding of eighth. To be fair, at the time, NZR had announced there would be no promotion/ relegation due to the enforced withdrawal of the three Auckland region’s teams from the NPC due to Covid-19 boundary restrictions.

The new format is imperfect, but at least every team is on the start line to play for one prize, to be decided at the October 22 final. Every team will play the six others in their conference and then four in the other conference, 10 games each. That is along the same lines as the old Premiership/Championship scenario.

The new format is imperfect, but at least every team is on the start line to play for one prize, to be decided at the October 22 final.

Here’s where things get funky. To make the post-season playoffs, you need to place in the top four of your conference to contest the quarter-finals. Six teams will miss the playoffs and start planning for 2023. But the quarter-finals will be played within your conference, 1 v 4 and 2 v 3.

So, for example, we see the Odds quarter-finals as Hawke’s Bay v Wellington and Waikato v Bay of Plenty, with Otago just missing out. How do we come by this conclusion? Well, we look closely at all the rosters, close our eyes and attempt to read the future and how much the dreaded virus will affect the teams. Then we add a pinch of luck and hope for the best. Coaches might be telling their charges not to flat together in numbers because who can afford to lose 6-7 players a week in a bad Covid scenario...

Continue this story in our August 22 issue – on shelves now!

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