The Bay of Plenty Steamers' final game of the season, against Northland, may have been a dead rubber, but they at least put on a show for the loyal home crowd at the Tauranga Domain.
With a semifinal spot already out of reach, the Steamers finally played with some freedom on their way to a 38-35 victory today.
The game also provided a glimpse of the future for the Bay of Plenty. The under-19 side who won the Jock Hobbs Memorial Tournament were honoured before the game and three players from that squad took to the field for the Steamers against Northland.
The Steamers enjoyed all of the possession and territory in the early stages and nine minutes into the game they had the first try.
After a scrum 5m out they held the ball for several phases before prop James Lay, who has discovered his try scoring touch of late, bulldozed his way over. First five Kaleb Trask converted for a 7-0 lead.
Northland opened the door for the home side with errors in their own half and Bay of Plenty strolled on through.
In the 14th minute they had their second try, through the other prop this time Jeff Thwaites who ran onto a crafty offload from hooker Tom Crozier. Trask converted to make it 14-0.
Midway through the first half the Steamers went in for a third try.
They were patient in possession as they worked their way up field, resulting in centre Liam Steel charging over under the posts. Trask kept up his perfect record, converting to make it 21-0.
With 12 minutes left in the half the Steamers were in again. After a shift right it was winger Emoni Narawa, one of the under-19 players in his senior debut, who stepped out of two tackles to score in the corner. Bay of Plenty led 26-0.
Northland hit back with a try to flanker Aorangi Stokes in the right-hand corner after a breakaway. The try was converted and the deficit reduced to 26-7 at halftime.
Northland started the second half with a point to prove and scored the opening try.
After a scrum near the middle of the field they shifted the ball right and prop Ropate Rinakama burrowed his way over, continuing the theme of big men scoring tries. First five Jack Debreczeni converted to make the score 26-14.
The Steamers hit straight back. Having worked their way into the Northland 22m, Trask put a kick in behind, the ball pin balled around before winger Fa'asiu Fuatai dived on it to score. Trask converted and Bay of Plenty led 34-14.
Despite trailing, Northland refused to go away.
Seventeen minutes into the half they scored another, to Noah Cooper, and converted to make it 33-21.
Momentum continued to swing and with 10 minutes left to play the Steamers extended their lead again, this time through fullback Chase Tiatia in the left corner to make it 38-21.
Northland mounted a late comeback with converted tries to centre Tamati Tua and winger Jordan Hyland, but it was too little too late with the Steamers running out 38-35 victors.
Steamers captain Tyler Ardron said he was proud of his side's performance.
"It wasn't the perfect way to finish, but we probably couldn't have started much better than that.
"We definitely wanted to finish on a high, we were playing for our pride, rather than a playoff spot or anything like that, and it went well."
He said the middle of the season was disappointing, but the team would go away and learn from that during the off season.
"We started the season well and we were pretty happy with how we finished, we'll go away with some things to look at, but we're pretty happy – it's a real tight group of guys."