Relief was written all over the face of Napier Old Boys Marist second five-eighth Paul Bickle after his team won the Maddison Trophy for a second consecutive year on Saturday.
Yes it had a little bit to do with how close their 31-26 win against Clive in front of a crowd of 3200 at Napier's McLean Park was. Yes it also reflected how pleased Bickle was to complete his first 80-minute display in seven weeks after recovering from a knee injury.
"But after missing my last two finals I was just happy to play in a final," Bickle, 20, who had 15 minutes off the pine in the previous week's semifinal win against Hastings Rugby and Sports, explained.
"In 2015 I missed my Wellington College Premiership final with the St Pat's Town 1st XV through injury and last year I missed my Wellington final with Tawa after being injured in the first round. Both of those teams were winners so it was good to play in a winning team today."
When he arrived in the Bay at the start of the year he had a berth in the Magpie squad on his list of goals. However because of the injury Bickle will settle for a spot in the Hawke's Bay Saracens team.
"Hopefully I can but I've got heaps of time. If I don't I will just make sure I get the knee right for next year," he added.
With quality support play and distribution to his outside backs spectators would have been forgiven if they thought Bickle had played for the Green Machine all season. Many in the crowd didn't expect Clive to be as competitive as they were but even the most one-eyed Hawke's Bay Insurances Limited NOBM supporters had to admit the riversiders' pick-and-go play was top shelf.
K9 Petfoods Clive led 21-17 after 46 minutes. However they lost the services of prop Nathan Bruce who was sinbinned in the 57th minute for a foot trip and while he was sidelined NOBM scored a converted try and regained some momentum.
This was Bruce's final outing and 230th appearance for the team after 15 years' service.
"Nathan has had a few yellow cards over the years so it was a little bit fitting," Clive head coach Blair Cross quipped afterwards.
"There was nothing malicious, my foot just happened to be in the wrong place. Funny it was Migao ... we started premier rugby around the same time and were Hawke's Bay under-20 teammates," Bruce said referring to NOBM centre Migao Lauano who was tripped.
"This loss is tough to swallow at the moment because we had enough ball to win it. But in a couple of days time the boys will look back on the season and be pretty proud of what they have achieved. They beat us by almost 50 points last time and almost 40 points the time before that," Cross said.
"We had a big mountain to climb today and I'm proud of our club. Hopefully with us reaching the final it will make more players want to play for us."
Cross will decide over the summer whether or not he will return for another season at the helm. NOBM head coach Craig Gowler will also make a decision on his availability during the summer.
"I told the club I would give them four years and I've done that. The boys might be sick of my old war stories," Gowler quipped.
"I'm just so happy for the boys and their families. There has been massive commitment from so many since October last year in our quest to retain the Nash Cup, Hawke's Bay Challenge Shield and the Maddison," he added.
Captain and openside flanker Chris Johnston and lock Matt Gardner were again constructive and destructive as required at the breakdown. Veteran hooker Terry Marsh's huge workrate suggested there is one more season at least for him at this level while No 8 Joseph Penitito was rampant until forced from the field with injury at halftime.
Fullback Liam Edwards used his pace and support play well to score his two tries. Openside flanker Lucas Goodin was again a workaholic for Clive.
Captain and hooker Jorian Tangaere was inspirational and deserved his two tries. Lock Josh Eden-Whaitiri, like Penitito and Tangaere, did enough to warrant some minutes for the Magpies in their final Mitre 10 Cup rehearsal against Manawatu in Palmerston North on Friday.