2022 Waikato vs Bay of Plenty

Bunnings NPC Quarterfinals: Playoffs Get Going As Waikato Aims For Repeat

Bunnings NPC Quarterfinals: Playoffs Get Going As Waikato Aims For Repeat

Two months of cutthroat, competitive rugby in New Zealand's premier provincial competition have led to this moment - the Bunnings NPC playoffs.

Oct 4, 2022 by Briar Napier
Bunnings NPC Quarterfinals: Playoffs Get Going As Waikato Aims For Repeat

There's no more room for error for the teams left standing in the Bunnings NPC.

Two months of cutthroat, competitive rugby in New Zealand's premier provincial competition have led to this moment. 

In a restructured format this year that did away with promotion and relegation in favor of intermingled divisions, eight teams remain for a shot at silverware after a grueling 10-match schedule.

There are old favorites, exciting upstarts and everything in-between, as the Bunnings NPC begins postseason play this weekend. 

Even though there certainly are favorites in the mix to take the title, like the old adage goes, everyone starts 0-0 in the postseason. When a loss sends a team packing, matches and moments get just a little bit more meaningful - both for better and for worse, depending on which team you talk to after the game.

What is there to look out for in the quarterfinal round of the Bunnings NPC this week? 

Here's a peek at the playoff matchups to come. Competition will continue to be streamed live on FloRugby.

NOTE: All kickoff times are listed in Eastern Time and are subject to change.

North Harbour Vs. Auckland

Two months can bring a lot of change to a club, and that's certainly the case in this matchup, as the two Auckland-based clubs are slated to face each other for a spot to play either Wellington or Hawke's Bay in the semifinals. 

The neighboring teams should kick off the 2022 Bunnings NPC playoffs with a bang, having squared off once already way back in Round 1, with Auckland emerging as 36-26 victor. 

However, North Harbour has improved its play dramatically over the latter half of the regular season, closing on a stretch of four wins in five matches to eventually surpass Auckland in the overall table and finish as the Evens Conference's No. 2 seed. 

If you want to see some offense and entertaining rugby, there's arguably no better club to watch at the moment than North Harbour. 

With a Bunnings NPC-high 390 points scored, North Harbour has been paced all year by electric wing Tevita Li - the competition's try leader (12) by four scores - and fly-half Bryn Gatland, whose league-best 129 points scored on the year isn't too far off from what some entire clubs (like Taranaki's 193) managed to put up throughout the season. 

Hosting at the QBE Stadium in Albany (and not the fortress of Auckland's Eden Park) should help North Harbour feel cozier in its playoff opener, too. But Auckland, which held the Evens Conference lead for much of the early season, before falling down the pecking order, should feel confident in knowing that it holds the last meeting over North Harbour. 

The question now is whether or not it can repeat the feat with its season on the line.

Wellington Vs. Hawke's Bay

The Lions had a low-scoring war with the Magpies in Round 7 (a match that also won them the Ranfurly Shield), with Wellington emerging victorious by a score of 19-12, thanks to longtime All Black TJ Perenara scoring the lone try of the match early in the second half. 

Despite their placings in the Odds Conference table, Wellington and Hawke's Bay had near-identical numbers of points scored and allowed across the regular season. However, the Lions more importantly picked up maximum points when they needed them the most, getting their defeats out of the way early, before embarking on a seven-match winning tear that was crucial to them earning their division's top seed. 

Wellington's 64-31 demolition of Counties Manukau in the final week of the regular season, a match that saw 10 Lions tries, perhaps was a sign of things to come, especially after substitute hooker Asafo Aumua barreled over for four tries on the day, after coming on minutes after kickoff for the injured James O'Reilly. 

Hawke's Bay, which secured its spot in the playoffs with a win over Tasman in Round 9 and Otago's defeat to Canterbury, has an exciting hooker of its own in Tyrone Thompson (seven tries this season). 

Still, the Magpies are in dire need of the consistency Wellington, on the other hand, has ridden to a top seed. Back-to-back victories have not happened for Hawke's Bay since Rounds 3 and 4.

Canterbury Vs. Northland

In classic David vs. Goliath format, Canterbury - largely considered the favorite to win this season's Bunnings NPC after a 9-1 regular season - starts its push to the title against Northland, which stunningly beat both Bay of Plenty, then Manawatu, on three days of rest, to make it to the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, while being just a year removed from a dismal 1-7 campaign. 

Though the Taniwha have a nice story that has made them favorites for the neutral watchers this year, Canterbury finished as the Bunnings NPC's regular-season points leader for a reason: 53 tries scored, a competition-best, meant a No. 1 seed in the Evens Conference was locked up well in advance of Decision Day for coach Marty Bourke's side. 

Plus, when the two sides met in Round 6, Canterbury stomped Northland by a 46-17 margin in Christchurch, crossing over six times and getting 6-for-6 kicking from fly-half Fergus Burke, who became the third player this year in the Bunnings NPC to cross the 100-point barrier in his team's win over Otago last weekend. 

Northland's 27 tries this season ranks as the second-lowest tally in all of the Bunnings NPC, so the squad will need to find some offense - and likely rather quickly - if it hopes to pull off an epic shock, especially if the strong defense that has helped the Taniwha get to this point doesn't hold.

Waikato Vs. Bay of Plenty

For being the defending Bunnings NPC champion, Waikato has felt awfully under the radar this year. 

The Mooloos are a good squad - second place in the Odds Conference with a 7-1-2 record is nothing to snark at - that has been safely in the playoff places all season and certainly has the look, feel and prior pedigree of a title contender. 

But between Canterbury's dominance and the optics of not being the division's outright No. 1 seed, perhaps there is a bit of a chip on Waikato's shoulder and a point heading into the playoffs. 

That journey to a repeat championship starts against Bay of Plenty in the last quarterfinal showdown, with the victor taking on the winner between top-seeded Canterbury and Northland in an immediate rematch from their classic 35-34 tussle last weekend. The Mooloos escaped Hamilton thanks to three tries without reply in the final 20 minutes to officially lock up the Odds Conference's second seed. 

Five-eighth Damian McKenzie, who along with Gatland and Burke are the only players to reach the century mark on points this year (McKenzie has tallied 115 thus far), went 5-for-5 kicking and helped the Mooloos pick up the win with playoff seeding and hosting on the line.

The Steamers, on the other hand, will be aiming to do what Waikato did to them and win on their own turf, this time hoping to leave the Mooloos staying at home for good, eliminated from the playoffs. 

A two-match slide has come at the wrong time for Bay of Plenty, even if those defeats did come by a combined three points, but getting players like Emoni Narawa (eight tries) and Kaleb Trask (88 points) in positions to succeed will be the key for the Steamers' attack, if they want to prevail and advance to the semis.