Ben Lister aces a stunning caught and bowled | PHOTOSPORT

Final countdown for the men!

The men’s Dream11 Super Smash ladder is super tight this season.

The Auckland Aces are hungry to lock in the Grand Final at home — but nothing is certain as we head into a huge last week. To do that, Saturday’s 4PM match against Northern Brave at Eden Park’s main stadium is a must-win for the Aucklanders.

If the Aces can do that, then former leaders the Wellington Firebirds won’t be able to overtake them for the top spot and direct entry, even if the Firebirds beat the Canterbury Kings the next day in Wellington.

However if the Aces lose, all eyes will be on the big game at the Cello Basin Reserve to see which city scores the Grand Final!

The Central Stags currently (as on Thursday 18 January) hold third spot on the table after storming through the back end of their campaign, and they were under considerable pressure to do so — having fought their way back from second-to-last on the ladder with a home win against the Otago Volts in Napier and key away wins against the Firebirds and Aces in the last week.

They face the unpredictable Volts in Dunedin tomorrow: another win to finish their 10 rounds could see them finish on equal points at the head of the ladder with the Aces.

But the Aces, after Finn Allen’s and Marty Guptill’s six-smashing feats earlier in the competition, have the strongest net run rate of any team and that may well come in handy. The Firebirds could also potentially end up on the same points.

As mentioned, the Firebirds will control their own destiny should the Aces lose, and can emulate their sister act the Blaze by finishing top to await the winner of the men’s Elimination Final.

For the Otago Volts, it’s already game over: they can no longer catch the top three. For the dangerous Kings, it’s game on, however, if they can win their last two games — and they’ll be hoping the Volts can get up and beat the Stags soundly on Friday.

Defending men’s champion Northern Brave has lifted the trophy for the past two years but has migrated to the unfamiliar wrong end of the ladder this season.

They can avoid the dreaded wooden spoon however for the Brave have three games left to play — and have been playing better than their standing suggests, even without injured spinner Joe Walker.

Jeet Raval's men could yet finish on 20 points, the same as the Stags in third spot at the moment. Watch this space.

The Brave are under lights this evening from 5.30PM against the Kings in Hamilton, with the Brave women and Magicians up first from 2PM, all live on TVNZ+ and Duke as we begin to tick down to the Friday, 26 January men’s and women’s 2v3 Elimination Finals, and then the Sunday, 28 January men’s and women’s Grand Finals in the entertaining competition.


AT A GLANCE: What are the MAXIMUM possible points each team could achieve ahead of today's matches?

• Four points per win, two points for a tie or washout

Auckland Aces: 28 (games still to play: 1)

Wellington Firebirds: 26 (games still to play: 1)

Central Stags: 24( games still to play: 1)

Canterbury Kings: 24 (games still to play: 2)

Northern Brave: 20 (games still to play: 3)

Otago Volts: 18 (games still to play: 2)

POINTS TABLE IN DETAIL (updated after each game)

All images: PHOTOSPORT