Auckland said that today's ITM Cup match could be 'season defining', and after holding off a spirited Waikato side to win 32-22 at Eden Park, they might just be right.
The win sets a solid platform for Wayne Pivac's side to attack runaway leaders Wellington and Taranaki at the top of the ITM Premiership and facing a challenging schedule ahead will be buoyed by a structured, disciplined and professional performance.
The Auckland forward pack - weighing 35kg more than their rival neighbours - laid the foundation for Malakai Fekitoa, Charlie Piutau and George Moala to terrorize the Waikato defence with blistering pace and power out wide.
Gareth Anscombe produced an inspired kicking performance, converting three conversions and two penalties which included a monster angled 45 yarder late in the first half.
But Waikato didn't make it easy and every-time it looked like Auckland were going to run away with the game, the Mooloo men managed to pull themselves back into it with deserved tries from Zak Hohneck , Alex Bradley and Ben May.
But Auckland are riding high at the moment and it was hard to shake the feeling that they were going to prevail. Led by inspirational skipper Hadleigh Parkes they fought off an intense late Waikato charge to hold onto their ten point lead and claim the Stan Thomas memorial trophy.
After a scrappy start Auckland fullback Piutau made the first meaningful break of the match - using his explosive power and pace to surge over the line following a slick Auckland buildup in the 7th minute.
Penalties dominated the opening 15 minutes, with scrums and lineouts breaking up any fluidity and flow to the match.
The referee seemed the only one sure that Zak Hohneck had managed to get the ball over the line for Waikato after 20 minutes, but the Mooloo's didn't care, claiming it sheepishly.
There joy was short lived though as a series of quick passes created space for Fekitoa out wide, who showed tremendous pace to easily skip past Waikato hooker Marcel Cumings-Toone.
Waikato skipper Alex Bradley drove the ball over the line from the back of a solid Waikato scrum five minutes before halftime to help reduce the deficit to six points at the break.
Joe Edwards struck first in the second half - just reward for a period of attacking dominance against a Waikato pack that was struggling to hold on.
George Moala increased the lead to 17 points before Bradley completed Waikato's scoring with his second of the match.
Auckland face Bay of Plenty, Taranaki and Wellington in their next three games, while Waikato face a demanding eight-day schedule which see them faces Bay of Plenty on Tuesday before travelling to Wellington on Saturday.
Auckland (G Moala, M Fekitoa, C Piutau, J Edwards; G Anscombe 3 con, 2 pen) Waikato (Z Hohneck, A Bradley 2; T Renata 2 con, T Renata pen) Halftime 18-12