Young first five-eighths Hayden Parker and his unheralded backline mates inspired Otago to a 46-34 win over Northland in Dunedin today.
Parker's remarkable goal kicking produced 26 points, and his only miss came right near the end of the game.
Under new coach Tony Brown, a favourite former son, a largely homegrown Otago side has been tipped to struggle in the ITM Cup just months after the union diced with liquidation. But today's four-try performance indicated a bit of passion and commitment could paper over the lack of depth and financial resources.
The Otago backs, in particular, played with the sort of spark and space that has been sorely missing in the last few years. And while the lineout was erratic, the forwards looked promising in open play.
Northland's performance was a mixed bag. They struggled to adapt to the pace of the game in the first half, and finished it down to 14 men when halfback Samisoni Filisau was sent to the bin.
But the Taniwha made a spectacular start to the second half, erasing Otago's 10-point lead in a flash.
The Northland forwards hoed into their work, and Moeke and Rene Ranger showed some deft touches on attack.
The Otago players, possibly too young and raw to get nervous, responded with two more lovely tries, and Parker's boot did the rest.
Otago had started the season in sparkling fashion, with a series of bright - and somewhat unexpected - backline attacks.
Sparked by Japanese test halfback Fumiaki Tanaka's sizzling passing, the home team flung the ball around with abandon and showed some good handling skills.
Within the quarter, Otago had a 20-3 lead. The first try featured some nice distribution among the outside backs, and the second was a delightful creation that included a Buxton Popoali'i chip and chase, some linking play from Glenn Dickson and a finish from All Black utility Tamati Ellison.
Northland, a bit shell-shocked, started probing for gaps with their own pacy attackers, but had the big boys to thank for their opening try when prop Matt Wallis nudged the bottom of the post.
Both teams showed good goal-kicking form inside the covered Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Otago 46 (Jayden Spence, Tamati Ellison, Tony Ensor, Buxton Popoali'i tries; Hayden Parker 4 cons, 6 pens) Northland 34 (Matt Wallis, Jack Whetton, Samisoni Fisilau, Eddie Paea tries; Ash Moeke 4 cons, 2 pens). HT: 23-13.