The Bay of Plenty Lakers' NZRL Championship defence is off to a rocky start.
Yesterday, they hosted the Northern Swords at Puketawhero Park but ill-discipline and sloppy handling saw them fall to a 24-18 defeat.
The two sides are playing to represent the Northern region in this year's Championship and will go head-to-head again in Northland in three weeks. The Lakers will need to win by more than they were beaten by yesterday to go through.
The game started well for the home side with Keanu Dawson crossing the try line in the opening five minutes. Having worked their way inside the Northern 10m zone, Dawson was too big and too strong to be stopped close to the line.
On the back of a penalty to help them out of their own end, Northern hit back almost immediately. They were on the attack when Marley Mackay put a kick in which rebounded off a Lakers player. Hooker Samuel Henry reacted fastest, scooping up the ball and running through a gap to score next to the posts. The try was converted and Northern led 6-4.
Bay of Plenty were finishing their sets well, kicking for the corners and forcing Northern to start their sets from deep inside their own half. However, more often than not, the Lakers would relieve all that pressure by giving away penalties on defence.
Twenty minutes into the first half Northern extended their lead to 12-4 through a try to Sepeti Tatau who broke through a couple of weak tackles to dive over the line.
The rest of the first half was a little messy, as both sides struggled to hold on to possession, which is perhaps to be expected in the first game of the season. However, the Lakers were able to take some momentum into the break with a try to captain Johnson Peri, making it 12-8 to Northern at halftime.
Bay of Plenty were under pressure early in the second half but were able to absorb it and go on the attack at the other end. Ten minutes into the half they took the lead through a converted try to winger Natuitasina Tumanuvao, making it 14-12.
Ten minutes later they led 18-12 after a well worked try to the other winger Dylan Shortland. Centre Denzil Manu made a break down the right and produced a highlight reel offload as he was taken out of play to put Shortland over in the corner.
Having been under pressure, Northern shifted the momentum by kicking a 40-20. They went straight on the attack and scored through halfback Joel Freeman. The try was converted and with 10 minutes left to play the score was locked at 18-all.
With the clock ticking Freeman attempted a field goal, but it was hooked to the left of the posts. However, the Lakers knocked on inside their own half shortly afterwards, handing Northern a chance to score a match-winner.
Northern took the opportunity with both hands, scoring the match-winning try with seconds left on the clock and converting to make it 24-18.
Bay of Plenty Lakers coach Jeremy Siulepa said the game was "a bit messy".
"Northland played well, but I think we just went away from what we've been training over the last couple of weeks and it showed out there. But, congratulations to Northland.
"There was a bit of frustration, we've been practising a structured style of play and we weren't sticking to that, the boys got a bit frustrated but there's no one to blame but ourselves, our discipline let us down in the end."
He said there were plenty of positives to take from the game.
"The energy and enthusiasm were good, everyone wants to be part of the group this year. There were a few good things out there, but we were scrambling. We've got one more chance now to go up to Northland and we'll have to beat them convincingly up there. We've got a couple of friendlies before that to work on our combinations," he said.