Counties Manukau 41 Auckland 22

The Auckland Storm's long reign at the summit of women's provincial rugby is over.

They were well beaten in Pukekohe by an aggressive, hungry Counties Manukau Heat who played smart - smarter than the Steelers in their loss to the Makos - hit hard, and finished all their opportunities.

This is the Heat's maiden title, a fair effort considering this is just their fourth season in the competition. They have also arrested a startling Storm streak of 15 titles in 16 years and the last eight on the bounce. In addition, the Heat have capped an unbeaten season, with eight wins and a sound defensive record.

Captain and halfback Arihiana Marino has played for the Heat since they entered the competition, and has seen this team develop nicely.


"It's been brewing for the last year. We weren't quite ready last year - we were still developing players - but this year it all came together," she says.

"It almost feels like a dream. Sometimes it doesn't always come off, but it felt like today, with ball in hand, we were unstoppable. Our forward pack was dominant."

While the pre-match talk was of Portia Woodman getting her hands on the ball in space, the Black Ferns wing hardly featured early, though she tackled with vigour and her pink hair was spectacular. But she did score a powerful second half try over the top of Storm fullback and Rio teammate Tyla Nathan-Wong.

Rather it was the physical work of the Heat pack, led by loose forwards Krystal Murray, Aroha Savage and Sharnita Woodman, and hooker Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate, allied with the fine positional play and kicking of fullback Hazel Tubic, plus some nifty work by No 10 Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali, that swung the contest.

For the Storm, hooker and skipper Fiao'o Fa'amausili scored her 10th try of the season, the most in the Farah Palmer Cup, but their standout individual was No 8 Charmaine McNemanin, who carried well and finished a nice move off a lineout drive. The Storm's set-piece was mostly solid, but there was little fluency to their backs play and they were second in the collisions.

"It's hard to play catch-up rugby. They had a good game plan. We expected them to be ruthless up front, so we tried to earn the right to go wide," said Fa'amausili.

The players from both sides know each other well from during the season, with all linked to clubs in Auckland's premier competition. Hopefully familiarity does not breed contempt, but there was a lot less niggle than we saw in the regular season clash in Papakura, won 7-3 by the Heat.

The Black Ferns squad are due to be announced in a few days' time and there will surely be a clutch of Heat and Storm players named.

Counties Manukau Heat 41 (Krystal Murray, Aroha Savage, Sharnita Woodman, Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate, Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali, Portia Woodman tries; Hazel Tubic 4 con, pen)
Auckland Storm 22 (Emma Jensen, Fiao'o Fa'amausili, Charmaine McNemamin tries; Jensen 2 con, pen)
HT: 26-10