As the Mitre 10 Cup playoffs creep ever closer, Wellington must be dreading the possibility of encountering Manawatu.
The Turbos tonight beat their lower-North Island neighbours for the fifth time in their last seven meetings, with flanker Antonio Kirikiri grabbing four tries to help his side thrash their high-flying opponents.
Kirikiri's heroics in Palmerston North dealt Wellington only their second defeat of the season and, while the Lions are still likely to earn a home semifinal, Manawatu would make for mighty opponents should the teams clash with promotion to the Premiership on the line.
The victory left the Turbos on the brink of a playoff place, lifting them above North Harbour and into third with two games to play. And given they have also toppled competition-leading Canterbury this season, Manawatu's potential will be worrying to every team heading into the knockout rounds.
Despite resting seven regular starters as they cast their eye toward a congested end to the campaign, the home side bossed their more-fancied opponents from start to finish. From the moment Jason Emery grabbed the game's first try inside 10 minutes, Manawatu spent more time at the right end of the field and looked more likely to find reward.
That reward soon came through Kirikiri, responding to Wes Goosen's try for Wellington with two of his own to help his side take a 10-point lead to halftime. And when Kirikiri completed his hat-trick just two minutes into the second spell, crashing over from close range after a sustained spell of possession right from the kickoff, Manawatu were in complete control.
Wellington were still able to puncture the hosts' defence, eventually earning a four-try bonus point, but Manawatu were much more dangerous and rounded out the evening in fitting fashion when Kirikiri scored his side's eighth.
Manawatu 50 (J. Emery 2, A. Kirikiri 4, C. Eves, C. Gibbins tries, O. Black 5 cons)
Wellington 28 (W. Goosen, H. Matenga, J. Woodward, G. Taufale tries; J. Garden-Bachop 4 cons)