King Country will be the sentimental favourites of this year's Mitre 10 Heartland competition, but the emotion for their first game since the death of the legendary Colin Meads was not enough to lift them to a victory over West Coast in Taupo on Saturday.
The hosts wore black armbands and retired the No5 jersey for the day at Owen Delany Park, but were beaten 17-6 as West Coast, with their former All Black Corey Flynn ,scored three tries, one of which was a penalty try giving them an automatic seven points.
King Country, with another former All Black in Alby Mathewson, kicked penalties in each half through first-five Reece MacDonald.
Similar to Taupo, all the Heartland games observed a moment's silence before kickoff in the memory of 'Pinetree' Meads.
As well as Steelform Wanganui's destruction of Wairarapa Bush, the first round saw another rematch of the 2016 Meads Cup semifinals, as Buller held off a late charge by South Canterbury to win 27-24 in Westport.
Buller lead 17-0 at halftime and worked their way out to 27 points before the visitors came back with several tries, as it was the boot of Buller first-five James Lash which proved the difference in a personal haul of 17 points.
Wanganui's next opponent Thames Valley slotted into a share of second spot on points differential after their comfortable 42-13 win over East Coast in Ruatoria.
Thames Valley scored six tries to one and will approach their first home match with a bit of confidence.
After missing out on the Meads Cup playoffs last year, Mid Canterbury and their one test All Black Regan King signalled early intentions with a 34-5 disposal of Poverty Bay in Ashburton.
The Canterbrians ran away with it in the second half, as loose forward Seta Koroitamana scored two of his team's five tries, with first-five Jarred Percival getting another as part of a 14-point tally.
The closest game of the round was in Levin as Horowhenua-Kapiti won an arm wrestle with North Otago 22-19.
Down 6-3 at halftime, the home side out-scored their guests three tries to one, with James So'oialo bagging 12 points, but the goal kicking of Josh Buckham and Dan Lewis kept the southerners in with a chance of an important inter-island victory.
Results, August 26.
Thames Valley 42 (Hayden Wisnewski, Shaun Hill, Tyrone Keith, Alex Bradley, Jarred Bayliss, Matt Hart tries; Chris Doak 2 pen, 2 con; Jarrod Goodall con) bt East Coast 13 (Parekura Lalaga try; Chris Palmer 2 pen, con).
Horowhenua Kapiti 22 (Kalim Kelemete, Ethan Pollock, James So'oialo tries; So'oialo 2 con, pen) bt North Otago 19 (Lisala Halaeva try; Dan Lewis pen; Josh Buckham 3 pen, con). HT: 6-3 North Otago.
West Coast 17 (Todd Struthers, Rowan O'Gorman tries, penalty try) bt King Country 6 (Reece MacDonald 2 pen). HT: 7-3.
Mid Canterbury 34 (Seta Koroitamana 2, Maleli Sau, Jackson Donlan, Jarred Percival tries; Percival pen, 3 con) bt Poverty Bay 5 (Siosiua Moala try). HT: 5-5.
Wanganui 79 (Timoci Seruwalu 3, Lindsay Horrocks, Kaveni Dabenaise, Tremaine Gilbert, Fraser Hammond, Simon Dibben, Angus Middleton, Craig Clare tries; Clare 3 pen, 6 con; Dane Whale 4 con) bt Wairarapa Bush 7 (Nikora Ewe try; Tim Priest con). HT: 30-7.
Buller 27 (James Lash, Scott Neighbours, Blair McIlroy tries; Lash 2 pen, 3 con) bt South Canterbury 24 (JP Koen, Kieran Cole, Loni Tounohuni, Bill Logavatu tries; Willie Wright 2 con). HT: 17-0.