Waikato should feel aggrieved at themselves for letting their latest Mitre 10 Cup clash with North Harbour get away in the fashion that they did.

Losing 38-36 wasn't only one of the great comebacks in provincial rugby that Waikato found themselves on the wrong side of, but it shows that switching off with a reasonably solid lead in the last quarter can have dire consequences.

Perhaps Sione Mafileo's try-saving tackle that stopped Bailyn O-Sullivan scoring in the 60th minute was a sign of what was to come for Waikato.

Perhaps, as it was the week before, it just wasn't meant to be from a Waikato perspective. But by any fair margin, Waikato should have closed out North Harbour and they aren't helping themselves as discipline continues to be the biggest issue.

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Penalties let the gate open for North Harbour with 10 minutes to go, and before Waikato likely knew it, the game was gone from under their feet.

What now for the belief that Waikato can actually get the job done in 2019?

Confidence won't be lost on this young Waikato side, they have enough talent and have shown why they can match any side.

Points, possession, and territory are also not major issues in games as the likes of Fletcher Smith, Quinn Tupaea, and fullback Rivez Reihana are running the backline well.

In the forwards, prop Ollie Norris has been a revelation as James Tucker and Mitch Jacobson have battled away for little return.

But the last two weeks have been difficult for Waikato with a draw in a match they should've won and now allowing such a monumental comeback to lose this week.

Suddenly all is not as it once seemed for Waikato in a competition where little is certain.

Tackling was an issue all night for Waikato in this defeat, falling off far too many and having to make more than was comfortable or planned.

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Energy was no doubt lacking due to that high number, but that's why you have eight players on the bench. For as hard as that bench fought in the dying moments, discipline is crucial, and again it let Waikato down when Louis Rogers was penalised to playing a man off the ball when his side had the chance to run the clock down with ball in hand.

Waikato skipper Dwayne Sweeney spent much of the last quarter on the bench but said the result was disappointing considering the strong position his side was in.

"We felt like we were dominating that game for massive periods so it's disappointing to let it slip," Sweeney said. "We will have to go back and look at ourselves really hard this week."

Fletcher Smith was also off the field when North Harbour scored their match-winner after being taken off late with a minor niggle.

The 24-year-old looked to the penalty count as a reason why Waikato left the door open for the comeback.

"Our discipline has been a real problem for us, we've been giving easy piggy backs down into our own half. We need to finish games stronger than we have been so that is also another work-on," Smith said.

The undefeated Hawke's Bay are the next opponent, so it certainly doesn't get any easier from here.

Michael Pulman is a freelance journalist based in Hamilton and covers rugby, cricket and social issues.
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