The opening game of the Premier 1 championship round on Saturday saw Te Puna, Rotoiti, Te Puke Sports and Whakarewarewa gain the early running in the chase for top-four play-off spots.

Te Puna saw off a gallant Rangataua Sports side 39-24 to continue their unbeaten run, Rotoiti enjoyed a 34-22 win over Tauranga Sports in Rotorua, Te Puke Sports shocked Mount Maunganui Sports in a 34-0 drubbing while Whakarewarewa held on gamely to beat Greerton Marist 24-21.

In rugby, defending your line with 14 players is tough enough but doing it with just 13 players for 10 minutes asks a lot of questions of a team's collective resolve.

Whakarewarewa were in that predicament against Greerton Marist after two yellow cards but they were able to dig deep for a crucial 24-21 away win at Greerton Park.

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On the run of play, Whakarewarewa deserved the points but were helped by Greerton's inability to quickly seize the initiative with such a numerical advantage. Also costly was their poor option-taking at other key moments.

Greerton coach Ryan Dunnett says they talked before the game about having to win the key moments but execution let them down.

"We probably made a few wrong decisions and we bombed a few opportunities and that's what makes you lose those tight games. This is the first close one we have lost but Whaka were the better team and they deserve their win," Dunnett says.

"I am happy with the way we stood up to their big forward pack but at the end of the day we just didn't execute and take our opportunities."

While there was near silence at the Greerton end of the changing rooms it was a scene of elation for Whakarewarewa, who had quality players in Kelly Haimona, Mathew Garland, Te Rangi Fraser and Joe Edwards to hold the team together and control the final stages.

Tauranga Sports' Champ Betham eludes a Rotoiti tackler. Photo / Stephen Parker
Tauranga Sports' Champ Betham eludes a Rotoiti tackler. Photo / Stephen Parker

At the other end of the experience scale, two stars of First XV schoolboy rugby last year showed their class. Former Hastings Boys' centre Dennon Robinson-Bartlett and Westlake Boys' winger Arikitohia Hood had fine games and are welcome additions to the Bay of Plenty Rugby Academy.

Robinson-Bartlett's try in the first half was the best individual effort in the match and led to cries of "who's that?" from the home supporters.

Whakarewarewa head coach Peter '"Boxer" Smith says being reduced to 13 players builds character.

"We put a bit of pride on our line and that was the focus, and not letting them score as many points. Obviously they have been doing well with seven (wins) on the trot and scoring lots of points so that was our focus, to work on our D," he says.

"It was a good level of rugby out there from both teams. It is huge to win here, then if you win your home games and manage to get a couple away you are probably in the top four."

Spectators at Centennial Park enjoyed a high-scoring thriller between home team Rangiuru and Ngongotaha, with Rangiuru snaffling crucial points in the 41-40 victory to kick-start their chase towards a top-four place in Premier 2.