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Rikki Swannell

Rikki Swannell has been a sports broadcaster for 15 years, including six years as Sports Editor for Radio Sport/Newstalk ZB, covering various World Cups, Olympics and Commonwealth Games. Now a freelance commentator and reporter, she can be heard on rugby, netball, tennis, cricket and hockey for Sky Sport and on the Women's World Sevens Series.

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It’s all on in the Farah Palmer Cup - Swannell

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Rikki Swannell     26 Sep 2018     Getty Images

But…

Like the Mitre 10 Cup, this competition is a sprint. One bad day can be punished and, with just six weeks of round robin competition, dropping as few as two games can spell the end of any semifinal aspirations. For the Premiership teams, there’s another looming spectre; the possibility of relegation to the Championship. 

It’s a position Auckland somehow finds itself in. The 15-time champion is in grave danger of missing out on the semifinals and will also need to beat Bay of Plenty on Friday to all but guarantee survival in the Premiership. It seems almost unthinkable for the most dominant union in the history of the women’s competition, but can also be seen as a measure of how far other unions have come and the work done to grow the game.

At the other end of the Premiership, Canterbury and Counties Manukau have undoubtedly set themselves as the teams to beat and will line up this weekend in a rematch of last year’s final. After a hiccup against Wellington two weeks ago, Canterbury is really starting to roll. With workhorse forwards, Kendra Cocksedge dictating the tempo, a power house midfield and a well-drilled back three, the defending champions put a good Manawatu side away last week and, for me, are the competition favourites. 

But, after a slow start, Counties are beginning to show why they have been one of the standard bearers of the past few seasons, and with the added incentives of having the JJ Stewart Shield and top spot on the line, this game on Sunday (11:35am kick-off) is one not to miss.
With wins over Counties and Auckland, and having led Canterbury two weeks ago, Waikato is a real dark horse. Sitting just behind the two front-runners, a win this weekend over Manawatu would see them jump up to second and still well in contention for a home semifinal.

It’s all on in the Championship in the final two weeks to determine the make-up of the top four, with just six points separating Wellington, Hawke’s Bay, North Harbour and Otago. The Pride has huge momentum, but Hawke’s Bay has been the biggest improver this season, reaping the benefit of the return of Krysten Cotterell and Emma Jensen to their home province, and the recruitment of former Counties lock Hanna Brough. 

A talented backline and a forward pack heard to yell “we love scrums” after 60 minutes of their demolition of Harbour last week, if the Tui can secure a home semifinal it will be a huge achievement for a team which didn’t win a game last season.

With two weeks and 12 games to go the semifinal picture is clear as mud. As it should be.