The start of Baywide rugby
Sports correspondent & historian
The Baywide rugby season is well and truly under way.
While the prize on offer for premier sides is the coveted championship trophy, the 12 contenders started the title race two weeks ago.
The first hurdle of making the top eight who will contest championship rounds will kick-off in the first weekend in June.
Perennial contenders Mount Maunganui and Tauranga Sports have hurtled out of the blocks, to remain unbeaten after the opening two stanzas.
Defending champions Mount Maunganui walloped a hapless Paroa in the season opener, before following up with a 38-20 win over Whakarewarewa in the Sulphur City.
Tauranga Sports have also kept their win ledger intact, defeating Western Bay rivals Rangataua 31-12, before grinding out a hard fought win over Te Puke Sports at Murray Salt Stadium last Thursday, taking home a 13-9 victory.
Te Puna and Rotoiti also remain unbeaten after fighting out a 24 points apiece draw in round one, before dispatching their respective opponents during the Easter holiday break.
The surprise package so far, has been the return of former Baywide heavyweight Ngongotaha to the top echelon - after many long seasons in the wilderness of Division one and two rugby.
The team, from the Rotorua outskirts, won through to the Division One semi-finals last season - which secured them a berth in the 2018 premier ranks.
On opening weekend, Ngongotaha beat Arataki 26-20 before taking Rangataua to the wire on Easter Friday, going down 28-19.
The cut-throat nature of the premier qualifying play is shown by 2011 and 2012 premier title holders Te Puke Sports, sitting down the standings with just a couple of bonus points.
First up, they lost a thriller by just two points to Greerton Marist before last Thursday's close encounter with Tauranga Sports.
While Rotorua and the Eastern Bay of Plenty provide five of the first round premier contenders, the reality is, that the Baywide Premier title is likely to be won by a Western Bay of Plenty team.
Multiple premier title winners Mount Maunganui and Tauranga Sports lead the list, with the other Western Bay premier sides in Te Puke Sports, Rangataua, Te Puna, Greerton Marist and Arataki - all having aspirations to play in the top eight in the second half of the season.
The Baywide Premier crown has been encompassed in the Western Bay of Plenty for over a decade, with Whakarewarewa the last team to halt the Western Bay of Plenty rugby freight train in 2006.
However, perusal of the Baywide premier trophy records that date back to Waikite winning the first title in 1990, show that just Mount Maunganui (1993) and Tauranga Sports (1999) from the Western Bay, held aloft the Baywide prize in triumph before the dawn of the Millennium.
Whakatane Marist and Rotorua's Eastern Pirates, who has dropped out of Baywide rugby, both won two titles apiece in the 1990's.
Ngongotaha went back to back in 1997 and 1998 with Waikite also a dual winner.
Tauranga Sports hold the Western Bay roll of honour, with eight Baywide premier crowns followed by Mount Maunganui with four victories.
Te Puke Sports and Rangataua have also flown the Western Bay flag in Baywide triumph.
It will take a huge effort for the Eastern Bay or Rotorua region to grab the Premier title in 2018 - with the Western Bay of Plenty a huge odds-on favourite, to continue their unbroken title run since the Whaka victory twelve years ago.