The common assumption was that Counties had virtually conceded this match against perennial competition favourites Canterbury because of their looming Ranfurly Shield defence against Southland.
Coach Tana Umaga had named a second-string side in order to save his big guns for the crunch match at Pukekohe on Friday night. They have already qualified for the play-offs.
What occurred almost turned that logic on its head. Counties dominated the first half, leading 13-9 at the break thanks to Ki Anufe's assured goalkicking and a try to second-five Tyrone Lefau and it just got better for them at the start of the second.
Flanker Sean Reidy skipped through another missed tackle to put his side further ahead thanks to Ki Anufe's sideline conversion and at 23-9 it was all but over for Canterbury and one of the biggest upsets of the season was brewing.
But then, a response from a team which has never lost at its AMI Stadium home in Addington. First, wing Patrick Osborne was held up over the Counties' line but had the last laugh when crashing over and almost flattening the left upright from the resulting scrum.
Replacement No 8 Nasi Manu went over in left corner when finishing off a counterattack to put Canterbury close at 23-21 and Tyler Bleyendaal's penalty after 68 minutes gave them the lead for the first time since the 15th minute.
Two tries from loose forward Luke Whitelock in the final 10 minutes made the game safe for Canterbury and also gave his side a precious bonus point which put them above Auckland in second place on the table.
Canterbury coach Scott Robertson admitted at halftime that he had given his team a "serve'' - he would have been extremely concerned at the multiple errors and the way they were struggling at scrum time.
Normal service was eventually resumed, but questions remain about whether Canterbury can make it six titles in a row.
"It was pretty horrible out there today, to be honest,'' captain George Whitelock said afterwards. "We were very flat and missed a lot of tackles.''
For the Steelers it would have been a confidence booster ahead of their clash against the Stags. Written off beforehand, they were extremely competitive for 60 minutes.
"I couldn't be prouder,'' captain Mark Selwyn said. "We couldn't close it out at the end and I guess that comes down to experience.''
Canterbury 38 (Luke Whitelock 2, Patrick Osborne, Nasi Manu tries; Tyler Bleyendaal 4 pens, 2 cons, Richie Mo'unga con)
Counties 23 (Tyrone Lefau, Sean Reidy tries; Ki Anufe 3 pens, 2 cons)