Out of semifinal contention and with nothing to lose, many expected the Bay of Plenty Steamers to break the shackles and have some fun against a Southland side who had lost their last 18 games.
However, that was far from how the game in Invercargill today panned out. The Steamers limped across the finish line for a 26-22 win, but it was far from convincing as they ended a six-game losing streak.
Perhaps Southland had more to play for, desperate to claim their first win in two years in front of their loyal home fans, but they were left heartbroken having come so close to victory.
Considering the wealth of possession they had in the first half, the Steamers may have been disappointed to only lead 19-12 at halftime.
It was one-way traffic in the first five minutes. The first scoring opportunity came when Steamers flanker Tyler Ardron did his best impression of a first five, rolling a kick in behind from just outside the 22m and chasing it down to tackle the Southland player in-goal, resulting in a 5m scrum to the Bay.
From the scrum the Steamers worked a neat set play on the right which ended with winger Bailey Simonsson diving over untouched for the opening try and a 5-0 lead.
Ten minutes into the game the Steamers had a lineout 5m out. They claimed the ball, set a maul and drove over the line, but hooker Tom Crozier was held up. However, the Steamers won a penalty, kicked for the line and set up another maul. This time Crozier got it right and scored his side's second try, which first five Kaleb Trask converted to make it 12-0.
Southland had the home crowd behind them and 15 minutes into the game they hit back with the sort of play they have been desperately lacking this season. After a patient 11 phases inside Bay of Plenty territory, they spun the ball wide and winger Lewis Ormond made the most of a big overlap to score, reducing the deficit to 12-5.
Southland had no answer for the dominant Steamers forward pack and 21 minutes in winger Fa'asiu Fuatai scored another for the away side, on the back of a clever set piece at lineout time. Trask converted beautifully from the left hand sideline to make it 19-5.
The Steamers were in control but Southland crossed the try line often enough to stay in the hunt. They scored a converted try through prop Morgan Mitchell to cut the Steamers' lead back to 19-12 at halftime.
The Stags came out strongly in the second half and had the Steamers under pressure. The away side lacked desire at times, particularly in their kick chase, and were forced to defend their line for long periods.
The pressure paid off for Southland when winger Isaac Te Tamaki put his dancing shoes on and left Steamers fullback Chase Tiatia for dead before racing 50m to score. The try was converted and the score was all locked up at 19-all.
With 12 minutes left to play, Southland won a penalty 40m out and opted to kick for goal. Centre and captain James Wilson nailed the kick to go ahead 22-19, their first lead of the game.
Six minutes from fulltime the Steamers got their hands on the ball for what felt like the first time in the second half. After several phases it was towering lock Kane Le'aupepe who bulldozed his way up the middle to score under the posts. The try was converted and Bay of Plenty had stolen the win from the jaws of defeat.
After the game Steamers captain Tyler Ardron said it was not the way the team wanted to win it, but they were happy to break the losing streak.
"It was a pretty exciting way to finish the game, it was not the way we wanted to play but we got the result."
Under pressure late in the game, he was pleased with the fight his team showed in the late stages.
"The determination was good, we had to dig in. We knew it wasn't not going to be easy, we haven't had best run lately, but we stuck to it."
The Steamers' season comes to a conclusion against Northland in Tauranga on Saturday.