Super Rugby Aotearoa has been a non-stop rollercoaster of big hits and razzle dazzle plays, but with just two weeks of competition left things are starting to shape up in the standings.
The Chiefs are well and truly out of the race - still chasing their first win in the competition, let alone the title.
Unfortunately for Highlanders fans, following Sunday’s loss at home to the Blues, their slim chances of coming out on top have also ended.
That leaves just the Crusaders, Blues and Hurricanes with a shot to lift Tū Kōtahi Aotearoa.
A quick glance at the standings shows it’s the Crusaders to lose from here, but just how can the Blues or Hurricanes come through and steal a title?
Before diving in, a spanner thrown into the works that's worth noting is the fact the competition is currently experimenting with golden point, meaning no draws are possible and therefore, earning - or keeping - a team to two points in a game is much harder.
And as a quick refresher, the only ways a team can earn bonus points is by scoring three more tries than your opponent or by losing by less than seven points.
Here’s how each team can get it done:
Crusaders [5-1, 24 points]
Remaining games: Round 9 v Highlanders, Round 10 at Blues.
How they win SRA: Win one of their final two games. That gives them enough points to be out of reach of the Blues or Hurricanes. Simple.
Blues [5-2, 22 points]
Remaining games: Round 9 v BYE, Round 10 v Crusaders.
How they win SRA: After squaring off with them yesterday as rivals, the Blues will now become the Highlanders’ biggest supporters. The Blues need the Highlanders to upset the Crusaders in Christchurch this week in order to set up a winner-takes-all finale at Eden Park the following week.
A bonus point win over the Crusaders would then seal the title. Otherwise, they could have a dark horse breathing down their necks...
Hurricanes [4-2, 16 points]
Remaining games: Round 9 v Chiefs, Round 10 at Highlanders
How they win SRA: The Hurricanes need a fair bit more to go their way heading into the final two rounds. Firstly, the Crusaders need to lose both games. On top of that, they need that second loss – a win for the Blues – to not be a bonus-point triumph for the Auckland franchise. And to cap it all off? Win both their games with a bonus point. With that, they'd tie the Blues and take things to points differential and a chance to snatch the title.
Just because it’s possible, let’s chuck this option in too.
How it happens: The Crusaders pick up two points in these next two games – AKA: bonus point losses. The Blues pick up a close win (no bonus point) against the Crusaders and the Hurricanes pull off two bonus-point wins against the Chiefs and Highlanders. All three teams would then be tied at 26 points in the standings.
In this scenario, the Crusaders are out automatically because they will have lost more games than the other two. From there, the winner would be decided between the Blues and Hurricanes on points difference.