Kurtley Watson starred with bat and ball on day one of Northland's third and fourth place play-off at the Northern Districts Secondary Schools tournament in Gisborne, but Northland have a lot of work to do if they are to win.
After being sent into bat by Counties, a promising start from Northland with openers Kashmir Harypursat and David Armitt putting on 56 for the first wicket was squandered after both batsmen were dismissed after being well set.
Soon after, Northland found themselves six down for 82 through a combination of bad batting, good bowling and some unlucky umpiring decisions. Just as Counties thought to have it wrapped up, the fast bowling Watson took up responsibility with the bat.
Watson clobbered his way to 41 by way of boundaries, hitting eight fours along the way. But soon after his dismissal, the innings ended with the total at 136 in the 50th over.
However, Counties' batsmen had problems of their own thanks to Northland's strong bowling attack as they lost five wickets for 40 - two each to Max Trimble and Nick Stobart and one to Watson.
A grinding sixth wicket partnership of 71 had Counties in much better shape but three more wickets to Watson left the first innings battle in the balance at 124 for eight.
Once Northland's score was surpassed, though, the Counties' tailenders hit out to good effect, taking their total to 198, with the last wicket falling in the last over of the day.
With Northland's batsmen again struggling to pull off the big scores needed to support their bowlers, taking control of the match may be an uphill battle as Northland start day two 62 runs behind Counties' first innings total.
Northland will need to bat positively if they are to try to reach a sizeable lead while leaving themselves enough time to bowl Counties out a second time.
In the final, Bay of Plenty Coastlands already have one hand on the tournament trophy after scoring 200 and having Hamilton reeling at 14 for four wickets at stumps.
Scoreboard: Bellahomes Northland 136 (Kurtley Watson 41, Kashmir Harypursat 33, David Armitt 13; Jarrod Halliday 4/13) v Counties Manukau 198 (Cameron Gibbons 75, Riley Hohepa 61; Kurtley Watson 4/27, Nick Stobart 3/54, Max Trimble 2/40, Eden Crawford 1/18).