They weren't looking the business in the preseason, but Black Bull Liquor Pirates stepped up on big game day as they drew first blood in the Spriggens Park derby by upsetting Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist 33-32.
Marist have consolidated most of their Tasman Tanning Premier semifinal-reaching team from last year, plus making a couple of good pickups including the return to representative lock Sam Madams from Waverley Harvesting Border.
However, write off the erratic Pirates at your peril, as they avoided a repeat of the 34-0 hammering by Marist on Week 1 last year to hang on after leading 20-10 at halftime and despite being outscored four tries to five.
Second-five Junior Ainea landed three key penalties plus two conversions, while without their 2016 top points scorer Sam Monaghan, Marist got a penalty and two conversions from first-five Michell Millar.
Pirates got good service from their flankers Tafulu Isaako and Fa'amanu Manutulila, both tryscorers, with winger Uaealesi Taumalefau and halfback Fa'alele Iosua also scoring, while Pirates are bolstered by veteran scrumhalf Ricky Boniface fronting up again.
While Marist winger Luke Foster scored a hatrick and lock Lake Ah Chong grabbed a double, it was not the start the club was after in their 100th season.
Up the Waitotara Valley, Settlers Honey Ngamatapouri learned that their all-out attack style which ran roughshod over the 2016 Senior competition will need modification in Premier, as Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau blitzed them in the final quarter to win 62-29 in the home's side debut in the top level.
Trailing 29-17 at halftime and then closing the gap to five points, Ngamatapouri ran out of legs for Kaierau to pick up a ten tries to four victory.
Outside back Karl Pascoe scored a hat trick, while representative hooker Jack Yarrall and veteran captain Ace Malo got doubles on a pleasing day for Kaierau, given they are breaking in new combinations in the halves.
The Kemps - Leslie and Huia - scored for Ngamatapouri, as did Isi Baleitavuki and Francis Vakadravu.
In the other derby match at Memorial Park, Taihape eventually climbed away from Utiku Old Boys to win 34-10.
Whatever the makeup of the two squads, Utiku always treat the derby like its a grand final and can drag their more fancied neighbours into arm wrestles, and so it was proving at 15-10 to Taihape at halftime.
A converted Jack Kinder try got Taihape some breathing room in the second half, and then James Barrett crossed ten minutes later to make Taihape safe.
Matt Brown scored to get a try in each half, while Utiku's try came from Cyrus Teumohenga.
Waverley Harvesting Border's big win over Harvey Round Motors Ratana was more useful than a training run as they prepare to head to Ohakune for McCarthy's Transport Ruapehu's first game and defence of the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield.
In Senior rugby, the beaten 2016 finalists Speirs Food Marton announced they have designs on going one game better in a Ngamatapouri-free grade after they hammered Border 63-14 in Waverley.
Kelso Hunterville started their journey to get back to the top of the grade they once dominated with a 47-10 win over Kaierau in the first defence of the Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield that they received by random draw.
Black Bull Liquor Pirates made it a double for derby day with a 26-19 win over Marist Celtic, while Memorial Park only had one fixture as Utiku have yet to get full numbers, defaulting to Taihape.
Counties were comfortable 29-12 victors over Marist Buffalo's.
Results, March 18
Tasman Tanning Premier, Round 1
Black Bull Liquor Pirates 33 (Uaealesi Taumalefau, Tafulu Isaako, Fa'amanu Manutulila, Fa'alele Iosua tries; Junior Ainea 3 pen, 2 con) bt Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist 32 (Luke Foster 3, Lake Ah Chong 2 tries; Mitchell Millar pen, 2 con). HT: 20-10.
Waverley Harvesting Border 65 (Nick Harding 3, Lindsay Horrocks 2, Kaveni Dabonaise 2, Hamish Mellow, Grayson Tihema, James Forsythe, Isaiah Hooper tries, Harding 5 con) bt Harvey Round Motors Ratana 7 (Allan Penetito try; Aaron Paranihi con). HT: 29-0.
Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau 62 (Karl Pascoe 3, Jack Yarrall 2, Ace Malo 2, Shane Angland, Dylan Bowater, Taina Kirkwood tries, Ethan Robinson 6 con) bt Settlers Honey Ngamatapouri 29 (Leslie Kemp, Huia Kemp, Isi Baleitavuki, Francis Vakadravu tries, Tim Goowin pen, 3 con). HT: 29-17 Kaierau.
PGG Wrightson/Balance Taihape 34 (Matt Brown 2, Hamish Bennett, Jack Kinder, James Barrett tries; Tom Wells pen, 3 con) bt Utiku OB 10 (Cyrus Teumohenga try; Dylan Ratana pen, con). HT: 15-10.
McCarthy Transport Ruapehu bye.
Note: Grand Irish Bar MVP points will now be published in Wanganui Chronicle on Wednesdays with the draws.
Senior Championship, Round 1.
At Spriggens Park: Black Bull Liquor Pirates bt Marist Celtic 26-19. HT: 14-5.
At Racecourse: Counties bt Marist Buffalo's 29-12. HT: 14-5.
At Dallison Park: Speirs Food Marton bt Border 63-14. HT: 34-7.
At Hunterville (Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield): Kelso Hunterville bt Kaierau 47-10. HT: 21-5.
At Memorial Park: Taihape bt Utiku OB by default.