Port Macquarie Sharks can secure a top two berth and home ground hosting rights for the Group 3 rugby league semi-finals with a victory over Old Bar at Wauchope on Saturday.
The Pirates are a point behind the Sharks in third spot, but Port Macquarie coach Dave Geary is unsurprised they are challenging for the title.
He says there's a reason for it after southern-based sides have rarely featured deep into the finals for almost a decade.
"It seems they've chased a lot of players to play down there which is a sign of a club that's trying to buy a competition because the southern sides need one," he said.
"It's been a while since a southern side has been in a grand final. It's been northern dominance."
Geary, however, remained wary of Mick Henry's men who haven't beaten a top two side all year despite fielding a strong forward pack.
They suffered 28-18 losses in both matches against minor premiers Wauchope while the the Sharks held on 34-20 in round one despite playing half the game with 12 men following Chris Piper's send-off.
"They'll be a hard task because last time we played them you could see they were a quality side, but were lacking game time," Geary said.
"It'll be a good hitout. From all reports our goal-line defence last week was the highlight and we've been wanting and chasing that all year."
With drinks breaks now a thing of the past Geary feels the Sharks are more suited to 40-minute halves than 20-minute quarters.
"We beat them on match fitness last time and I see us as being one of the fittest teams in the competition, if not the fittest," he said.
"Now the 20-minute quarters are out of the way it suits us. Sometimes we could have played the game without substitutions because of the stop-start nature of the quarters."
Geary said the Sharks were looking forward to the challenge of playing another premiership contender.
"We're looking forward to it."
Saturday's game kicks off at 3pm.
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