The 2016 Mitre 10 Heartland Championship is the eleventh season of the second tier of New Zealand domestic competition.
Before that, the National Provincial Championship (from 1976 to 2005) had three overall divisions.
The core of the third division features in the Heartland Championship.
The tournament boasts twelve unions, all of who are contributors to the catchment areas of the New Zealand Investec Super Rugby franchises.
The Heartland teams play eight games each over the regular season.
At the start of Round One, the 12 teams split into seeded pools of six teams each, Pool A and Pool B.
Seedings are based on positions in the previous year's competition.
During Round One, each team plays the other teams in its pool once.
All sides have either two or three home fixtures, with the three highest seeds in each pool at the start of the season receiving the extra home fixture.
The top four will advance to the Meads Cup semifinals, while fifth to eighth will advance to the Lochore Cup semifinals.
In both of these knockout stages the top seeds (first and fifth) will play at home against the lowest seeds (fourth and eighth), the second highest seeds (second and sixth) will play at home against the third highest seeds (third and seventh) and the final will have the higher seed play at home against the lower seed.
All teams advance to Round Two. The top three teams in each pool advance to the Meads Cup, while the bottom three teams enter the Lochore Cup.
Round two saw each team in both the Meads and Lochore Cups playing the three teams that it did not play during Round One. The three teams with the most competition points in Round One would play two home fixtures and one away, while the other three teams would play one home fixture and two away.
All competition points from Round One carried over to Round Two, and the competition points earned in both rounds determined the teams that advanced to the semifinals of each Cup in Round Three. The top four teams in the Meads and Lochore Cup competitions at the end of Round Two advanced to the semifinals.
This season the same twelve teams will participate being: Buller, East Coast, Horowhenua Kapiti, King Country, Mid Canterbury, North Otago, Poverty Bay, South Canterbury, Thames Valley, Wairarapa Bush, Wanganui, and West Coast.
Roll of honour
2006 Wairarapa Bush
2007 North Otago
2010 North Otago
2012 East Coast
2013 Mid Canterbury
2014 Mid Canterbury
2006 Poverty Bay
2007 Poverty Bay
2008 Poverty Bay
2009 North Otago
2010 Wairarapa Bush
2011 Poverty Bay
2013 South Canterbury
Wairarapa Bush will test their new lights and new artificial turf at Trust House Memorial Park in Masterton in Week 2, when they host 2014 Lochore Cup finalists North Otago.
Also playing under new lights at Taupo’s Owen Delany Park will be King Country as they take on East Coast in the final round of pool play in Week 8.
Both night games are scheduled for 7:30pm kick off times.
Meads Cup champions Mid Canterbury start their new campaign at home in Ashburton taking on neighbouring rivals South Canterbury, while Lochore Cup champions Wanganui head south to Levin to face Horowhenua Kapiti in their 2015 season opener.
In other Week 1 action, last year’s Meads Cup finalists Buller host King Country in Westport, neighbours East Coast and Poverty Bay square off at Whakarua Park in Ruatoria, North Otago take on the West Coast in Oamaru and Thames Valley and the Wairarapa Bush brush off their cobwebs in Paeroa.
The eight-week competition will be followed by semifinals on 17 October, with the Meads Cup and Lochore Cup champions decided on 24 and 25 October respectively.