Southland saved the best until last to fend off Bay of Plenty by 34 - 23 in Invercargill.
The scrappy first round championship match in the ITM Cup was not one to remember. The final Southland try was though. Replacement Willis Halaholo smashed through Teddy Stanaway, and Cardiff Vaega produced a lovely kick to the corner for the try, finished by fullback Junior Ngaluafe.
It was a lovely mix of raw power and delicate skill. Southland's big name recruit Lima Sopoaga closed the deal, landing a sideline conversion. Stanaway appeared concussed and required considerable on-field treatment, and was stretchered off. There was no way back for the Steamers from there, although they did respond with an immediate try.
Sopoaga's goalkicking was one of the differences and he began to show some of the touches that Southland will hope brings attacking life to their campaign. Bay of Plenty flung the ball about after the final hooter had sounded, looking for a try to gain one bonus point. It ended in failure, and they didn't really deserve the bonus.
Southland took half an hour to start finding their touch but it was enough to given them a 21 - 10 halftime lead. Vaega provided a couple of the better moments in the spell. He smuggled a pass which brought the Stags their second try, finished by Elliot Dixon. A Vaega grubber helped set up the home side's first to Lolohea Loco. Bay of Plenty halfback Samisoni Fisilau suffered a suspected broken ankle.
Southland 34 (Lolohea Loco, Elliot Dixon, Junior Ngaluafe tries; Lima Sopoaga 2 con, 5 pen), Bay of Plenty 23 (Johan Bardoul, Siegfried Fisiihoi tries, Dan Hollinshead 2 con, 3 pen). Halftime: 21 - 10.