Peter Danby looks at team form on the eve of the 18ft Skiff JJ Giltinan trophy finals

When the holders of the 18ft Skiff JJ Giltinan trophy arrived in Double Bay last week, having not raced an 18 footer since their victory here last year, there was bound to be speculation about their chances of defending their title successfully.

However, when Rob Greenhalgh, Dan Johnson and Peter Greenhalgh put on a storming display of boat handling in 20 knots of north-easterly wind to win the Invitation Race by a large margin last Friday, all the conjecture turned to whether the RMW Marine team could be possibly be beaten in the forthcoming series.

Now, with only two more heats remaining to be sailed, they are holding a rather unconvincing fifth position, and the odds appear to be stacked against them. Their outstanding ability in a good steady breeze is beyond doubt, as they again showed in Heat 3 on Tuesday when they picked their way through the fleet in a 15 knot southerly with apparent ease, and went on to win as they pleased. But the conditions have otherwise not favoured them, and we have seen a different winner in each of the five heats sailed.

Heat 1 had to be stopped and postponed to another day last Saturday, when a serious storm came through. Then, on Sunday, Anthony Young, Phil Harmer and Matt Pearce brought Computer Associates home at the head of the 28 strong fleet in a light and tricky south easterly to take Heat 2. The resail of Heat 1 on Monday saw the 2000 champions John Harris, Craig Ferris and Chris Cleary on Rag and Famish Hotel take the win in another difficult breeze, this time from the southerly quarter.

After the RMW Marine team won back their self respect in Heat 3 it was the turn of skipper Euan McNicol, in his first season at the helm of an 18 footer, to come first in Heat 4 with Seve Jarvin and Tim Austin on Club Marine. Then, yesterday saw yet another winner when Hugh Stodart, Paul Schulz and Niall Kinch brought Asko Appliances home in first place.

With different winners in each heat so far, it is the consistent Asko Appliances team that leads on 10 points after a discard, just one point ahead of Club Marine. Rag and Famish Hotel comes next on 14 points, with Computer Associates another couple of points adrift on 16, and RMW Marine on 17.

Much could depend on the weather for the final outcome, with Club Marine perhaps being the favourite if the wind is light, but any of the others could still be capable of taking it. If the wind is strong, RMW Marine will be likely to win the heats, but whether they will again be the champions will depend on who finishes ahead of the rest. Or maybe the pack will be shuffled unexpectedly.