Otumoetai Eels gave Waicoa Bay Premiership leaders Hamilton City Tigers a tremendous fright at Mitchell Park on Saturday before losing 28-24.
The Tigers came to Tauranga with an unbeaten record in 2016, on top of the combined Waikato, Coastline and Bay of Plenty competition table.
But it was the Eels that controlled the first half, building a 16-0 lead.
Vance Te Utupoto scored the first Eels try, barging over from close range, Josh Weedon's conversion adding the extras. A deft, accurate kick through by Tyrus Campbell, who has stepped up from last year's under-17 side, gave Ryan Gordon a try and 10 became 16 when hooker Tane Leef snuck over from dummy half, Weeden adding the extra two.
In between times, the Eels were camped on their own line for several prolonged periods, each time turning back the Tigers attack with strong tacking in the middle and desperate scrambling efforts out wide.
But just before half time Tiger's winger Timo Brooky sneaked in at the left hand corner and suddenly the Eels' lead seemed a little less convincing.
It was obvious that 16 points was not going to be enough to win the game, and so it proved.
Tigers halfback Te Puhi Rudolph chased his own kick to score and the dam broke again when centre Faa Leilua made the initial break and, with the Eels defence all at sea, Eli Paul found a huge gap to stride away.
With the scores tied at 16-all, a Weeden penalty edged the home side in front again, but tries to prop Piripi Raurangi and Tamainu Huirama effectively saw off the Eels' challenge.
Clayton Parai scored the Eels' final try to bring his team to within four at 24-28, but time was almost up and the Eels did not manage to launch another serious attack.
Eels coach Stan Nicholas said his players defended themselves to a standstill.
"I'm very pleased though. We know that there is room to improve and that's the good thing about it. [Tigers] are the yardstick of the competition and we were right there with them. If we had held our composure in the second half we could have stayed on top of them," he said. "Just the odd mistake cost us and then they got a roll on, and that was understandable because a little bit of fatigue came into it."
The goal now is to secure a playoff spot.
"We are happy to go with things at the moment, and then we will add some more components into the game when we get into the playoffs, as long as we do enough to get into the playoffs."
Eels reserves had a big win over Hamilton City Tigers Reserves, 52-14.
Next Saturday the Eels travel to Taupo to take on the Phoenix.