Put it in your diaries now. After last season s shock results and gripping dramas, the historic Hawke Cup challenge series is ready to capture provincial hearts all over again. Hawke Cup cricket springs back into life this Anniversary weekend at Mount Maunganui’s Bay Oval, headquarters of current Cup holders Bay of Plenty. The three-day match begins Saturday morning, 28 January against Counties Manukau, who won the right to challenge BOP by claiming supremacy this season within the northernmost provincial Zone One. One of the oldest sporting trophies in New Zealand and the icon of Minor Association cricket competition in New Zealand, the Hawke Cup was presented by Lord Hawke in 1910.

Bay of Plenty s first ever representative match was, in fact, a Hawke Cup challenge against what was then called South Auckland, in 1932 in Hamilton. Since then, BOP has contested a further 27 Hawke Cup challenges, winning or defending the Cup on 12 occasions and chalking up a notable golden run of five wins on the bounce between January 2013 and February 2014 (with successful defences against Manawatu, Canterbury Country, South Canterbury and Hamilton).

That side contained several current Northern Districts representatives including Brett Hampton, Bharat Popli and Joe Carter, and remains captained by Peter Drysdale. Despite losing the Hawke Cup, they charged on to another vintage summer last season, having won both ND s intra-provincial Fergus Hickey Rosebowl and Brian Dunning Trophy before going on to bring the Hawke Cup back home after defeating Zone 2 s Hawke s Bay in the final challenge of a riveting 2015/16 Hawke Cup season.

This season, however, Counties Manukau have sounded a threat to BOP already in the qualifiers.

Counties Manukau became the Brian Dunning champions for the first time in five years, propelled by Northern Districts rep Nick Kelly s 39, an unbeaten 75 from Ash Vodnala and a racy 48 from Ollie Pringle as they chased down against Bay of Plenty s 193 with four wickets to spare in the Zone One clincher.

Now they face each other once more, the stakes even higher this time. The winner of the impending Hawke Cup opener at the Mount will get to host the challenge from Zone Two (the challenger yet to be determined, with qualifiers ongoing around the rest of the country), starting on 10 February. To win the Hawke Cup, challengers must beat the holders on their home ground.