The Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy is at stake when the Highlanders host the Blues in a Super Rugby Aotearoa clash in Dunedin on Sunday.
Kick-off is at 05:35 (SA time).
The second-placed Blues are very much still in the hunt for the title, and while the fourth-placed Highlanders have a mathematical chance, their immediate focus will be on beating a resurgent Blues side and retaining a trophy that means a great deal to the franchise.
Gordon Hunter was the inaugural coach of the Highlanders in 1996 when Super Rugby began and also coached the Blues in 2000 before passing from cancer in 2002. He was an All Blacks selector and coach between 1996 and 2000 and had a long history of coaching in the Otago region at club and provincial level.
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger has largely kept faith with the team that scored a last-gasp victory over the Chiefs earlier this month - Bryn Gatland is the only new player included in the 23-man squad but a key positional change will see All Blacks flyhalf Josh Ioane get his first start of the new season at pivot.
The on-song Mitch Hunt will move to fullback but will no doubt have some time at first receiver.
"Mitch has been outstanding for us and has really flourished with regular game time. We are truly blessed with the standard of first-fives (flyhalves) we have in our squad and I would be confident with any of the three of them at the helm. Josh deserves his chance though as he has worked very hard to get back to full fitness and we saw some nice touches from him against the Chiefs," said Mauger told the Highlanders' official website.
Michael Collins has retained the centre spot having performed well against the Chiefs in that position,
"Michael has been in good form, making good decisions and we believe he can make a real impact on the game from there," Mauger added.
Mitch Hunt, 14 Josh McKay, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Sio Tomkinson, 11
Scott Gregory, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith (co-captain), 8 Marino
Mikaele-Tu'u, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Jack Whetton, 4 Pari
Pari Parkinson, 3 Jeff Thwaites, 2 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 1 Ayden
Substitutes: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ethan de Groot, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Jesse Parete, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Jona Nareki
15 Matt Duffie, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Karl Tu'inukuafeSubstitutes: 16 Luteru Tolai, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Tony Lamborn, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Otere Black, 23 Harry Plummer