It has been more than a decade since a Kiwi won their National Open and there are no less than seven contenders within striking distance of Papadatos in Queenstown.
Mark Brown (66) and Richard Lee (70) lead the charge only one back from Papadatos.
While Ashley Hall shot up the leaderboard with a birdie-eagle-birdie finish to be 10-under the card heading into the final round.
Rounding out the top-5 on 9-under the card are Adam Bland (SA), Craig Palmer (NZ), Gareth Paddison (NZ) and Kieran Muir (NZ).
They will be chasing a 22-year-old Papadatos who is looking for ultimate redemption in Queenstown.
The 22-year-old Papadatos, who was disqualified from the NZ PGA Championship in 2013 for hitting an incorrect ball, led for most of the third round.
He came back to the field when he failed to get up and down from the front bunker on 18 for his only bogey of the day.
Still he was rapt with his position and was looking forward to chasing his first title in just his second year on the PGA Tour of Australasia.
"I was surprisingly calm out there," said Papadatos about his round that included six birdies and a bogey.
"I thought I would be more nervous with the big crowds. I started to get it going and I felt pretty comfortable. At first it was a bit overwhelming but you start to get used to it, you start to enjoy it more."
Papadatos, who finished third at the ISPS Handa Perth International in October, said that experience of being in one of the final groups should help him tomorrow.
"It will be good, [to be leading] it's what I have come here for so I am looking forward to it."
But the thousands flocking to The Hills will be hoping for a Kiwi champion and the drought since Mahal Pearce's victory at Royal Auckland to finally end.
Brown, who was the leading Kiwi at the last NZ Open at Clearwater in 2012, had a roller coaster back nine where he reeled off five birdies, an eagle and a double bogey on the par five 17th.
The 38-year-old is in a great position to make amends for his missed chance in 2012.
"I was sort of getting a little bit behind after the front nine I'd played really nicely but I turned it around really nicely," said the former European Tour winner.
"I just made one bad swing on 17 and made double, but part from that, she was all pretty plain sailing."
The Kiwi No.3 said it was hugely important to respond to that double bogey on his final hole where he made a clutch birdie putt.
"Mentally more than anything, to prove I can put a rubbish shot, rubbish hole behind me and knuckle down."
Brown was "in the zone" on the back nine as he delivered a putting master-class.
"I putted beautifully the whole back nine, holed some good length putts too, not exactly gimmes. It's the best I've felt all year. Hopefully it carries on tomorrow."
In a different mood was Auckland professional Lee who was less than impressed with his two-under par 70.
"I am struggling with my ball striking and I would love to go out there and tear it apart," he said.
The final round of the New Zealand Open Championship will tee off at 7.30am with the final group on course at 12.26pm.
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