We have seen eight rounds so far in the 2009 Air New Zealand Cup, each coming with its fair share of controversies, upsets, and of course, brilliant performances. In the article, I rate each team's season so far. Teams can be given A, B, C, D, or E with a "+" or "-" indicating performance slightly above or below the grade.
Despite a first up loss to North Harbour, Canterbury have been the form team in the Air New Zealand Cup this year. Great team depth has ensured that the team has remained atop the table in the absence of their All Blacks.
Stephen Brett has been outstanding so far with a particularly dominant performance in their Ranfurly Shield defense against Otago two weeks ago. Tim Bateman, Sean Maitland and Michael Paterson have all looked dangerous and have also contributed greatly toward Canterbury's success so far.
The forward pack has been strong with George Whitelock leading from the front.
Arguably their performance of the season came against Wellington, where they took the Ranfurly Shield off the Lions and back to Canterbury.
2009 has been one of Southland's best seasons ever. Only losing two games and drawing one sees them second on the table and a potential home quarterfinal.
Strong performances up front from Jamie McIntosh, David Hall, Josh Beckhuis, and Tim Boys have seen them dominate in every game. Halfback Scott Cowan has directed play well while First-Five Robbie Robinson has shown what a great young talent he is and will be looked at very closely for a spot in the All Blacks end of year tour sqaud.
Bay Of Plenty: A-
Bay Of Plenty have also been in good form so far in 2009.
A solid effort from the forward pack coupled with good play from the backs has seen them become one of the top teams in the competition.
They have the form First-Five in the competition in Mike Delany, who has guided them through the season. Their best performance to date was their 19-17 victory over a strong Canterbury side.
Hawke's Bay: B
A thrashing of Auckland in their first game saw Hawke's Bay look as though they may be the team to beat in the competition this year.
However, a form slump for the next few weeks saw them lingering further down the table. They have come back well the last few weeks and now look as though they could pose a seriouse threat toward winning the whole thing.
A 32-10 drubbing of Otago on Saturday showed just how good they are with Israel Dagg definitely putting his hand up for All Black selection at the end of the year.
Inconsistency has been Auckland's problem this year. A nail-biting loss in the weekend saw them drop to fifth on the table. It seems as though some weeks they could be capable of beating anyone and other weeks they look very poor.
Benson Stanley has been solid in the midfield for them, but they will look forward to their All Blacks returning in two weeks' time.
Strong performances in the forwards have seen Tasman to sixth on the table and some very consistent performances, with the only blemish being their first loss to Taranaki.
Despite also losing to Canterbury, Hawke's Bay and Bay Of Plenty, they remained competitive showing that they are capable of beating the top teams.
Wellington have shown promise in some of their games, but consistency problems have seen them slip to seventh on the table. Hosea Gear started the season in tremendous form, but has been missed while he has been away with the All Blacks. The Lions will welcome the return of him and their other All Blacks this weekend.
Taranaki haven't been startling this year, but have managed to maintain a respectable record.
A win over Wellington would have to be their season highlight, but losses to Counties-Manakau and Northland have let them down. Andrew Hore and Jason Eaton will be sure to make an impact on their return to the side.
A terrible start to the season saw Waikato stoop to the bottom of the table, but a recent return to form has seen Waikato work their way back up the table and should make the top eight if they carry on.
The team will look a lot more threatening in two weeks' time on the return of the likes of Mils Muliaina, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Stephen Donald, and Brendon Leonard.
Manawatu have been inconsistent this year, but have proven that they are capable of winning with good wins over Southland and Otago in consecutive weeks.
They were unlucky to lose to Auckland two weeks ago as they came back strongly.
Aaron Cruden has shown that he has what it takes to progress to a higher level.
They haven't looked all that strong this year, but occasional glimpses of brilliance have shown that Northland could be competitive with most teams. They go into this weekend as heavy underdogs for their Ranfurly Shield challenge against Canterbury.
D for dreadful sums up Otago's season.
Karne Hesketh has looked very slippery on attack with his strength and speed. He has, however, been decidedly dodgy on defense.
The loose forward trio of Adam Thomson, Alando Soakai, and Stephen Setephano has been very good while locks Tom Donelly and Hayden Triggs have been good as well. However, a very average backline has seen Otago stoop to 12th on the table with only two wins.
North Harbour: D-
A win over Canterbury in the first round saw Harbour off to a strong start, but they have looked poor since.
While they have some potential in the backs, they lack a quality forward pack. A good win over Auckland in the weekend saw them get back on track.
They have shown that they can play some good running rugby from time to time, but have been average at best. They will struggle to maintain their place in the top division of the competition next year.