A tight race looming? PHOTOSPORT

Just 20 days until knockouts!

With just 20 days until knockout day, pressure is mounting on mid-table teams to secure a spot in the 2022 Dream11 Super Smash Grand Finals.
All teams will be keeping a close eye on today's clashes between the women's Auckland Hearts and Canterbury Magicians, and the men's Auckland Aces and Canterbury Kings clash that follows, at Kennards Community Hire Oval from 11.10am this morning.
Auckland made a delayed start to the competition this season due to lockdowns and still has five games in hand, heading into today - and both Auckland teams are still able to finish on top of their respective leagues.
In the women's arena, all-conquering Wellington Blaze (unbeaten after six rounds with 24 points, the only undefeated side in the league) and the Otago Sparks (also on 24 points, but with eight rounds played and just two games in hand) are the two frontrunners for Finals berths after a spectacular clash yesterday.
But another win today to the defending champions the Canterbury Magicians (12 points from six games) will see the Cantabrians open a gap on the chasing Hearts in what's shaping as a two-horse race for the third qualifying spot.
Conversely, if the Hearts win today, they will draw level with the Magicians in third spot, and will have a game in hand.
On the men's table, leaders Northern Brave (18 from six matches) can reach a maximum of 32 points if they keep on winning - and the Auckland Aces are the only other side who can also get to 32 points on the table from here.
The Aces currently sit in fifth spot with 12 points from five matches, but can potentially charge up through the pack across the back end of the competition - starting this afternoon against the well performed Canterbury Kings who occupy second spot (16 from 6) - just two points behind the Brave.
Tomorrow, another key men's battle looms between the Central Stags (fourth spot) and Wellington Firebirds (third) at Pukekura Park, New Plymouth.
The Stags started the competition with a hiss and a roar to be the early leaders, but have fallen off the pace after three home losses on the trot and a string of injuries.
After a comprehensive one-day Ford Trophy win yesterday at the same ground, they will be keen to move back up ahead of the resurgent Firebirds who yesterday drew level with the Stags and Aces on 12 points after a big DLS victory over cellar dwellers the Otago Volts after a game-changing knock from blaster Finn Allen.
The Firebirds have a game in hand over the Stags, as do the Kings and Brave ahead of them, with last year's third placegetters the Stags set to finish their push for a finals spot against the Brave and Aces, both away.
Both big games in today's doubleheader in Auckland are livestreamed on Spark Sport and free to air on TVNZ Duke.