The Bay of Plenty Steamers' season was typified by a last minute 31-30 loss to Counties Manukau yesterday.
Only a small crowd were on hand to see Steamers' demise at the Rotorua International Stadium which will see the team play in next year's ITM Cup Championship division.
Needing to win their last three games of the season, Bay of Plenty supporters' hearts were broken when Counties first-five Baden Kerr stepped up to kick a penalty to steal the win in the last minute of the match.
Although Bay of Plenty possibly played their best game of the season, with their scrum destroying the Fritz Lee-led side, it was the visitors who jumped out to an early lead with only four minutes on the clock - Counties' backs showing they can cause havoc just feeding off scraps of possession.
The visitors made their way up the field giving openside flanker Maama Vaipulu the chance to squeeze over from a 5m ruck.
Counties soon had their second try from a series of pick-and-goes which eventually saw their captain charging over and for Kerr to convert.
Willie Ripia had the home side on the board at the 12 minute mark with a 49m penalty.
Although the visitors looked dangerous out wide, it was the Steamers pack who had it at scrum time and often at the breakdown. They were rewarded for there efforts with a Beau Robinson try after they opted for a penalty lineout 10m from the Counties' line. The Bay pack were like a locomotive, driving through the flimsy Counties forwards for a converted try.
Despite having the acid on the Counties scrum, the home side gave away two silly penalties to give the visitors a kickable penalty just before the break to extend their lead to 15-10.
Bay of Plenty had the better start after the break rumbling the ball forward and eventually catching Counties offside at the breakdown and 22m out in front of their goalposts which Ripia had no trouble converting.
The home side took the lead at the 50 minute mark after some sustained pressure on Counties, who where penalised for tapping the ball down while the Bay were hard on attack. The home side chose the lineout and hooker Nathan Harris scored a well-deserved try which Ripia converted to give them a 20-15 lead.
But the visitors narrowed the gap thanks to the boot of Kerr after the Bay were penalised at the breakdown.
Counties re-took the lead at the 62 minute mark with a converted try to Hika Elliot to bring the score to 25-20.
Ripia managed to narrow the gap to two points after the visitors were pinged for a head high. But Kerr returned the favour with a penalty of his own to make the score 28-23.
With six minutes to go the Bay started to dominate most of the set play and territory with a penalty 22m out from the Counties' line. The Bay again went for the lineout option. Although Counties managed to hold them up over the line, the Bay's powerful 5m scrum shunted the Counties pack back over their tryline with prop Kane Hames to fall on the ball for the equaliser. Ripia's conversion gave the Bay the lead with just two minutes left on the clock.
But with less than a minute. a silly penalty at the ruck gave Kerr the opportunity to step up and steal the win.APN News & Media
Scorers: Counties 31 (M Vaipulu, F Lee, H Elliot tries; B Kerr 2 cons, 4 pens) Bay of Plenty 30 (B Robinson, N Harris, K Hames tries; W Ripia 3 pens, 3 cons) Halftime: 15-10