Otumoetai Eels premiers took another scalp on Saturday with a seven-try, 42-12 win over Hamilton United in Hamilton to make it four wins in a row.
The result means the Eels have kicked clear of the chasing bunch vying for top four in the Cross-Country Rentals Waicoabay (Waikato-Coastline-BOP) combined premiers competition.
With seven players unavailable from the previous week due to other commitments, coach Stan Nicholas couldn't confirm a team until just before starting whistle blew, having to call up four players from the reserve side after the reserves had pummelled United's second tier team in an 86-6 rout at muddy Resthills Park.
Nicholas was left scratching his head at Thursday's training as five of the team he named to play on Saturday immediately said they had other commit-ments. But the the team that eventually took the field showed grit and determination.
After leading 24-12 at halftime, the Eels put the opposition away.
Outstanding for the Eels were stand-in captain and hooker Tane Leef, who had to hold the reins while half and captain Josh Weeden was away. Leef scored a try and kicked all seven conversions with more than half of them from the sideline.
Fullback Josh Allen tore into everything on attack and defence and was rewarded with a try and player of the day.
There were huge defensive efforts from prop Vance Te Utupoto, second rower Hamish Newlands, five-eighth Mark Ballantyne and Dan Holmes, who had already received the reserves' player of the day.
Strong efforts also came in from Peter Bidois, Peni Tokailagi and Bailey Nicholas.
At the same grounds, top two teams Pacific Sharks (Tokoroa) and Hamilton City Tigers ended up drawing 22-all with the Tigers scoring late to share the honours in a top quality and energy charged game of the round.
In Huntly, Taniwharau Taniwha hammered Taupo Phoenix 62-0 and Ngongotaha Chiefs overcame a stubborn Turangawaewae from Ngaruawahia 32-30 with Pikiao Warriors having the bye.
This weekend sees the Eels hosting the unbeaten Hamilton Tigers in what will be the game of the round at Mitchell Park, with both reserves grades also fighting for top dog in the reserve grade beforehand.
Taniwharau travel to Pikiao with Pikiao needing to win this one to stay within striking distance of the Eels for playoffs contention, Pacific host Taupo, United are at home to Ngongotaha with Turangawaewae sitting the round out with a bye.
Scorers: Tane Leef, Josh Allen, Tai Stephens, Peni Tokailagi, Hamish Newlands, Tremain Pompey, Ryan Gordon tries; Leef seven goals.