Bay of Plenty Steamers may have lost 21-19 to Counties Manukau Steelers at Rugby Park in Whakatane yesterday, but there was much to like about the attitude, defensive courage and commitment from the new-look side.
It took the visiting Ranfurly Shield holders until the 70th minute to take the lead and, as dress rehearsals go, this was a top-class performance from the Steamers ahead of the ITM Cup opener against Southland in Invercargill next Friday.
The Steamers rocked the visitors from the outset.
Young halfback Te Aihe Toma looked to be under the bar for the opening try but was called back for a forward pass, and the Steamers lost the ball driving for the line two plays later.
The Steelers settled on attack but yet another powerful tackle gave the Steamers a chance to counter, and after a breakout from midfielders Doug Edwards and Siaosi Iongi, mobile hooker Joe Royal scored. Dan Hollinshead converted from touch with a fine kick.
Toma split the Steelers defence from the kick-off and the Steamers looked impressive, recycling quickly to set up an attacking ruck five metres out. A penalty awarded became an attacking lineout and two plays later prop Mike Kainga crashed over.
The classic, old-fashioned manual scoreboard at Rugby Park showed the Steamers leading 14-0 with 28 minutes gone and it was soon 19-0, after winger Leroy van Dam seized on a loose pass to sprint 60 metres to score, with Sherwin Stowers struggling in his wake.
Steelers flanker Onosai'i Auva'a closed the gap with a try in the final play of the half.
The Steamers had the setting sun and wind behind them for the second spell but the Steelers dominated most of the half.
Referee Brett Johnson yellow-carded Steamers blindside flanker Johan Bardoul, as the defensive pressure intensified, which proved costly.
The Steelers scored a converted try to close the gap to 19-14 with 16 minutes to play before Chiefs halfback Augustine Pulu broke clear from a penalty to set up Rey Lee-Lo for a try under the posts. Ahsee Tuala converted to give the Steelers the lead 21-19.
Tino Nemani nearly broke through for the crucial try for the Steamers. Replacement first-five Paul Morris had a late chance from 40m to win the match, but his well-struck kick slipped just wide.
Steamers v Steelers
Where: Rugby Park, Whakatane.
When: Yesterday, 3pm.
Counties Manukau 21 (Onosai'i Auva'a, Pauliasi Manu, Rey Lee-Lo tries; Ahsee Tuala 3 con).
Bay of Plenty 19 (Joe Royal, Mike Kainga, Leroy van Dam tries; Dan Hollinshead 2 cons).