Valentino Rossi may be on the verge of his sixth world title, but the only man that can now stop him, Sete Gibernau, has stolen the Italian's thunder by taking pole position for tomorrow's Australian Grand Prix.

Yesterday, Rossi set a comfortable provisional pole with a best lap 0.378secs clear of Gibernau, who in turn took a 0.777secs advantage over third placed Nicky Hayden.

Previous success at the at Phillip Island circuit in the World Superbike championship seemed to benefit Colin Edwards and Ruben Xaus, who provisionally qualified at the head of the second row in fourth and fifth place respectively, while Ducati Marlboro's Loris Capirossi completed the top six.

Into today and the main news was that Edwards had been officially announced as a factory Yamaha rider for next season (see separate story), while Gibernau had set the pace in the final free practice session, from Rossi (+0.015secs) and Max Biaggi (+0.187secs).

Carlos Checa, whose place at Yamaha Edwards has taken, improved from 11th to 5th with 20-minutes of the qualifying hour gone, while local hero Troy Bayliss settled into sixth - as top Ducati - soon after. The pair would later be demoted a place when Alex Barros took third at the halfway mark, knocking Repsol Honda team-mate Nicky Hayden off the provisional front row.

Biaggi would slot into fourth at the three-quarter mark, but as the final 12-minutes began four of the top six - Rossi (1st), Gibernau (2nd), Hayden (5th) and Edwards (6th) - were still to improve on their Friday times.

The arrival of qualifying tyres was signalled soon after when Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano shot to sixth (+1.1secs from pole), while a whole herd of riders began pitting for the super sticky rubber.

The result was Capirossi taking third, 0.7secs from pole, while Ducati Marlboro team-mate Bayliss then took fourth and Kawasaki's Alex Hofmann fifth in quick succession... only to be bumped down the order as Barros and Edwards took third and fourth.

With 6-minutes remaining, second placed Gibernau had also improved, by a few hundredths, making pole sitter Rossi the only rider in the top nine not to have bettered his Friday pace.

The Italian would be forced to react with two-minutes to go when Gibernau knocked the Yamaha star from the top by 0.1secs with what would be the Spaniard's last lap, while Capirossi closed to within 0.4secs of the #46 as he took third place.

The last minute saw Tamada briefly claim fourth, before being bumped down a position by Edwards, while Rossi was never able to challenge Gibernau - and indeed couldn't beat his Friday time.

Gibernau and Rossi will thus be joined on the front row by Capirossi, who took the Bologna based team's second front row start of the season after lapping within 0.49secs of pole. Loris will surely be in podium contention tomorrow.

Lining up on the second row will be Honda riders Edwards, Tamada and Barros - all separated by 0.15secs - while Biaggi, Hofmann and Bayliss complete row three. Hofmann's result was particularly notable as it puts him three places higher on the grid than highly-rated team-mate Nakano.

Marco Melandri will start in front of the Japanese in tenth, while Ruben Xaus will join the duel on the fourth row. Checa fell at high speed in the closing stages and dropped to an unlucky thirteenth as a result, while Hayden ran off track and qualified one place behind the Catalan.

Phillip Island ace Jeremy McWilliams put Aprilia 15th, just ahead of Suzuki team-mates Gregorio Lavilla and John Hopkins. Aoki was top Proton KR in 21st while all 24 riders have qualified for Sunday's race.

Rossi will start the event needing to keep his 30-point world championship lead at 25 or over to take the title, and so can afford to finish second behind Sete.

Full times to follow...

1. Gibernau
2. Rossi
3. Capirossi
4. Edwards
5. Tamada
6. Barros
7. Biaggi
8. Hofmann
9. Bayliss
10. Melandri
11. Nakano
12. Xaus
13. Checa
14. Hayden
15. McWilliams
16. Lavilla
17. Hopkins
18. Abe
19. Hodgson
20. McCoy
21. Aoki
22. Haydon
23. Ellison
24. Ui