ROUND nine is the halfway mark in the 2005 Mid North C oast rugby competition and some crucial games will be played this weekend.
According to media reports earlier this week Port Pirates claimed they would win the competition this year now their side has been strengthened with the return of Peter Bessling to their club.
The game against Coffs Harbour this weekend will no doubt be the match of the round.
Coffs who are undefeated and lead the competition need to defeat Port Pirates to keep clear of the field in this closely contested competition.
A loss could see them only 4 points ahead of the two Port sides and Kempsey at the end of round nine.
The second half of the competition will see Coffs with only two home games and they have to face the improving Kempsey away next week.
The ground will be full of Kempsey supporters returning to celebrate 30 years as a club playing rugby in the MNC competition and nothing would delight them more than taking Coffs Harbour's scalp on their special day.
Pirates, who had losses to Kempsey and Manning earlier in the season, have found their winning form and need to win to stay in second place.
They have been strengthened by the return of their prodigal son former Super 12 player Peter Bessling from Japan.
Not only is Bessling an outstanding footballer but also his return to Port has prompted a few former players to come out of the woodwork and bolster the Pirates' teams.
I am sure Paul Butcher and his team will be well prepared and welcome a strong Pirate's side to Rugby Park this weekend.
In the days of professional rugby it is unheard of to have someone of Bessling's ability playing in the country so it will be a challenge and a great learning curve for the young Coff's forwards to do battle with a player of Bessling's credentials.
Kempsey travel to Old Bar and should gain maximum points in their game against the Old Bar Clams.
The administrators of the Old Bar club have tried hard to meet their commitments each week but simply do not have the numbers or talent to field a first and reserve grade side in the MNC competition each week this year.
At the halfway mark the zone directors may have to make some hasty decisions as to Old Bar's future in first grade.
A side being belted each week has little to gain and soon players and supporters will say enough is enough.
Teams winning by such enormous margins have little to gain as well and would be better to have a training run to improve their skills and maintain fitness.
The Kempsey team has not played for two weeks and would appreciate some strong competition on Saturday knowing they have an all-important game against Coffs the following week.
Hastings had a torrid game against Dorrigo last weekend and was happy to leave the Tablelands with a 21-point victory and collect five points that put them in third position on the table.
Hastings Vikings should be too strong for Forster who would be still licking their wounds from their heavy points loss to Coffs last weekend.
Forster may have been misled by their second position on the competition table and although they bolstered their bench by forfeiting reserve grade they had no answers for strong display from Coffs.
Forster now fined themselves out of the four and a hard game on their hands this weekend to stay in touch with the top teams.
Dorrigo travel to Manning and these two teams should be evenly matched.
You would expect Dorrigo to dominate the forward clash but the Manning pack are getting more structured with their play and more confident with every game they play.
The outcome of this match will depend on Dorrigo's commitment to travel to Taree and play rugby for 80 minutes.
A win to Manning could see them take fourth position on the competition table-providing Hastings defeat Forster in Port.
I am sure coach Graeme Sontar would be more than happy to have his team in that position at the halfway mark in the competition.
South West Rocks travel to Coronation Park Nambucca to play Nambucca River in a game both teams will be desperate to win.
The Gaolers could find themselves in the top four with a victory over Nambucca while a loss to Nambucca will give them little chance of making the four.
Both clubs are taking time to adjust to the game since returning from the wilderness.
The team that concentrates on rugby for the whole game will grab the all-important points and the opportunity to stay alive in the competition.