The boys at St Peter's College are proving big is not necessarily best in secondary school sport.
At the mid-year point in the school year, the central Auckland school is reflecting on some top efforts across the sporting spectrum, led by its rugby 1st XV, who are headed at the top of the 1A championship by Auckland Grammar - but only on points differential.
Already next month's top-of-the- table clash, when AGS cross the road to go head-to-head in "The Cage", is being billed as the game of the season and one which holds bragging rights for the Epsom neighbours.
The 1st XV, coached by Steve Griffin, in his second year in the role, and led by Francis Saili, his second year as captain and third in the team, are punching well above their weight after finishing a distant eighth last season.
Director of sport Mark Wilson ties in the turnaround with having several players who returned from last year, having good players in key positions and depth across the squad as they chase a title they last won in 2001.
"It is a big boost having that depth - and not just in the 1st XV," said Wilson. "Our 2A and 2B teams are also top of their grades."
That is an outstanding effort for a school of only 900 pupils, which boasts just the one rugby field and depends on getting grounds at the Auckland Domain for training and matches.
It is the same story for other sports at the school: no home grounds, but keen old boys who give coaching time.
The soccer 1st XI have for many years been coached by teacher and old boy Brett McMurdoch.
Co-captained by Andrew Van Ross and Eathan Galbraith, they are now up to fourth in the highly competitive senior A1 championship. Their 7-1 away win over Macleans on Saturday booked them a coveted place in the Lotto Sports Premier Tournament in Nelson later in the season.
Their hockey 1st XI have won the 1B competition - their second success in two years. Coached by old-boy brothers Kirk and Chris Pereira and led by Bernard Ashman, they are up for promotion again.
The top St Peter's basketball team are undefeated in leading the Central Zone. Coached by Jamie Brown, another old boy, and with James Glucina as captain, the team, one of six at the school, is on course for a shot at winning through to the premier grade but Wilson admits it will not be easy.
It is not only in winter team sports that St Peter's is making its mark.
Year 11 student Lance Go won the Auckland secondary school golf strokeplay championship and several pupils won titles in the Auckland and New Zealand track and field championships including an almost clean sweep in relay races at the local meet.
St Peter's cricket 1st XI have been promoted to the premier championship and softball - traditionally a strong sport at the school - touch and rowing have also had successes.
Not bad for a school that looks up and over the motorway at Auckland Grammar with all its resources and huge roll - and in most years matches its neighbour for success.
Rangitoto College is on course for a rare double with its teams leading the boys and girls premier championships.
The boys have won nine-from-nine and scored 751 points to lead long-time rivals WBHS by five points with MAGS three points back.
In the latest round, WBHS edged MAGS 77-74 after a tight see-saw affair in which the lead changed many times. James Ashby of MAGS had a match-high 21 points, while Liam Munday led the scoring for WBHS with 16 points. The Rangitoto girls beat Diocesan 86-48 to claim their eighth win in nine outings. The North Shore school, the only team in their competition to have topped 700 points, lead MAGS by two points with AGGS third.
The Southern Cross players will have revenge on their mind when they run on to Mt Smart Stadium tonight to play St Paul's in the 1st XIII University Shield grand final.
St Paul's, the traditional powerhouse of the game among Auckland secondary schools, won last year's final 26-18 but Southern Cross, buoyed by their semifinal win over MAGS a week ago, will be keen to claim the title.
In another repeat of a final played a year ago, St Paul's will seek to retain the Graham Lowe Cup in the under-15 nine-a-side competition. St Paul's won last time 30-6 but Aorere, who again this season went through undefeated, will be looking for something better.
The under-85kg final for the V&G Fagan Cup promises to be a close encounter with Massey HS against MRGS who won through by seeing off the challenges from defending champions Tamaki, early front-runners Aorere and St Paul's.
Aorere meet Sir Edmund Hillary College in the first of the day's finals, the battle for the Stephen Kearney Cup.
After five rounds in the Auckland premier championship MAGS, EGGS, AGGS, St St Cuthbert's and Diocesan are separated only by goal difference with all five unbeaten.
MAGS lead the way after beating Baradene 47-23, but coach Paula Smith is taking nothing for granted as her team seek to regain the title they lost to EGGS last season.
Baradene started strongly but 100 per cent shooting from captain Darrell Leaota enabled MAGS to pull away to lead 13-7 after the first quarter, stretching their lead to 12 by halftime.
Smith continued to use her bench in the third quarter and with a strong defensive effort from Lesley Simone they produced some outstanding play.
"I was pleased with the team as they are putting into the game what they are doing in practice," said Smith. "All the players are stepping up and delivering which makes it difficult to pick a starting seven."
MAGS are also undefeated in leading the Senior A championship with their Year 9 team also on top after beating contenders AGGS 25-17.
Rosmini's 33-9 win over old rivals and defending 1A champions Westlake BHS further enhanced their hopes of a spot in the season finale, which is to be played as a curtainraiser to North Harbour's Air New Zealand Cup clash with Northland at North Harbour Stadium on August 21.
Massey, 33-11 winners over TGS, kept their six-point lead at the top of the table but Rosmini's ninth-round win at Westlake has taken them eight points clear of WBHS in third place.
The top two teams after round 14 will play in the final.
In the match of the round, Rosmini, with an early try to openside flanker Theo Commissaris and a conversion and penalty from Gareth Anscombe, took a handy 10-0 lead in front of the boisterous Westlake faithful.
The home side rallied and a couple of Dylan Ferreira penalties gave them some hope as they went to the break 13-6 down. But Anscombe stretched that to 19-6 early in the second half with a drop goal and a penalty. Ferreira kicked a third penalty to close the gap before second-five Josh Sabin dummied his way over for a try which Anscombe converted for 26-9.
Anscombe then scored a try in the corner and took the conversion.
Massey, with three converted tries, raced to a 21-8 halftime lead over TGS and built from there with second-five Sam Aolele and wing Jonah Luatua both scoring two tries. Lock Jarod Mariner also dotted down with the player of the day, first five-eighth Troy Stirling, adding four conversions.
TGS captain and first five Ben Blucher scored all his team's points with two penalties and a quick try.
In the upset of the round, Mahurangi beat Orewa 19-10 after leading 12-3 at halftime. In their second win of the season, Mahurangi had tries from wings James Holder and Ata Riannaba and lock Jordan Endemann. Brad Moka converted two.
Orewa halfback John McCarthy scored his team's points with a try, penalty and conversion.
Rangitoto squeezed out a 10-6 win at home over bottom placed Northcote after leading 5-0 at halftime.
Wings Michael Watts and Shaun Cooper scored unconverted tries for Rangitoto's points while David Halasia scored two penalties for Northcote.
The 1B championship remains a close, keenly fought contest with three or four teams jostling to join Long Bay in the final.
Long Bay continued on their winning way - nine-from-nine - but were asked a few questions before getting home 19-15 over mid-table Birkenhead.
Strong-running No 8 Jay Isgrove scored two of Long Bay's tries with wing Robert Cole touching down for the other. Birkenhead ran in three tries - scored by backs Eli Barnes, Samson Leasuasu and Rangipoe Munroe - but in failing to convert any they were left short of what would have been the upset of the season.
Elsewhere, Kristin held their good form with an 11-0 win over Kingsway, 6-0 at halftime; Kaipara closed out close rivals Glenfield 13-8 after leading 8-3 at halftime; and Hato Petera went on a 10-try romp (five converted) in beating Whangaparaoa 60-0.
Two nearest neighbours among Auckland secondary schools are also the closest rivals in the hotbed of 1st XV rugby.
Eight weeks into the season AGS and St Peter's, kept apart only by a strip of motorway, are locked at the top of the 1A championship.
How lucky the AGS players must now feel that they were not docked the two points they could have lost in that controversial call when they were late on to the field at Sacred Heart earlier in the season. Had they had to settle for a draw rather than take the narrow win, they would have trailed their Epsom neighbours.
AGS have won their nine games so far - the latest a 22-5 away win over bitter rivals MAGS on Saturday - while St Peter's have lost once, early on to KBHS, but have kept themselves at the top of the table by picking up seven bonus points.
Against MAGS, Auckland Grammar struck first when Scott Bracey went over in the corner and Ali Hitchcock added the sideline conversion. When Omar Slaimankhel ran on to a sweet final pass from Nili Moala to dot down, AGS were 12-0 ahead.
MAGS had their chances but were let down by some defensive lapses.
Determined to get back into the game, MAGS attacked strongly from the outset of the second half but were denied by a strong AGS defensive effort. Hitchcock then stretched the lead with a penalty before Matt McGahan scored a try - MAGS' only points.
The final say was with the visitors when Konileti Hurrell scored under the posts and Hitchcock converted.
Shrugging off conditions which seemed set to prevent running rugby, King's ran in seven tries en route to their 39-7 win over Tangaroa.
Fa'asiu Fuata'l scored first after 15 minutes and by halftime, with further touchdowns from Andrew Jones and Wesley Chase and a couple of conversions from new goalkicker Simon Healy, King's led 19-0.
The bonus-point fourth try came seven minutes into the second half when Luke Graham crossed after a powerful run.
Tangaroa then got on the board when captain and prop Lage Toto scored a good try near the posts. Mervyn Waalkens drop-kicked the extras. King's finished strongly with tries to Laken Whitecliff (2) and Healy.
KBHS also collected a bonus point in their 32-17 win over Sacred Heart.
Kelston dominated from the start with Tone Nanai scoring in the corner after a deft kick and chase. Inside 20 minutes they stretched their lead to 10-0 when No 8 and captain Cardiff Vaega scored.
The visitors closed the gap with a penalty, but KBHS hit back quickly when first-five Junior Tofa Vaa scored for a halftime 17-0 lead.
Rangy lock Nathan Hughes crossed for two tries early in the second half as the lead went out to 29-3 but with a player in the bin, they lost their way a little and Sacred Heart hit back with two converted tries. A late penalty to Kelston's Solomona Uitime Paraki completed the scoring.
There was no early bonus point for St Peter's in their home game against St Kentigern. In the end the competition co-leaders won by a flattering 26-12 but it was not until the dying minutes that Bryn Hall scored the vital fourth try.
Earlier, Jonathan Kawau, captain Francis Saili and D.J. Solomona had scored tries with Hall adding three conversions. The brave St Kentigern side kicked four penalties.
The championship now takes a break until July 25.
Six-goal wins for leaders MAGS and now fourth-placed St Peter's highlighted the eighth round of the Senior A1 championship.
While MAGS maintained their unbeaten start to the season with a 6-0 home win over Rangitoto, the real interest was at Macleans where visiting St Peter's needed to win, and win well, to edge ahead of Sacred Heart on the points table.
At stake was the fourth Auckland spot in the Lotto Sports Premier Tournament in Nelson in August.
Going into the round, Sacred Heart were three points and four goals to the good over St Peter's but Sacred Heart, at home to AGS, faced the tougher task.
In the end, Sacred Heart were undone by a late Anton Yee goal which earned AGS the 1-0 victory and denied Sacred Heart the point that would have kept them in fourth place.
Led by six goals from Rory Kelly, St Peter's stormed to a 7-1 victory to end the round equal on points with Sacred Heart but with a plus 2 differential compared to minus 1 for Sacred Heart.
MAGS' Thomas Boss scored eight minutes in against Rangitoto - his first of the season. Four minutes later he was brought down and referee Stephanie Brown had no hesitation in awarding the penalty which goalkeeper Patrick George drove home.
MAGS continued to squander further scoring chances, but did claim a third right on halftime when Dakota Lucas headed home.
After more missed chances, substitute Arnold Kochasira popped up to score in the 58th and 61st minutes for 5-0 before Karlo Pavic, another off the bench, completed the scoring in the 75th minute.
Second-placed WBHS beat King's 2-0 at home to hold their place on goal difference from AGS.