Two tight wins for teams at the top of the Hawke's Bay club rugby standings have provided an idea of just how tight the contest for the Maddison Trophy will be.
NOBM 10 Taradale 23
In the big local derby on Saturday, largely dominated by the whistle, Taradale shut out the visitors in the second half to beat NOBM 23-10.
In a very stop-start affair where whistleblower Tipene Cottrell, refereeing his 50th premier match, issued five yellow cards and a plethora of penalties, Taradale's defence was simply outstanding in the second half to ensure they secured the win and, with it, a home semifinal.
A contented Taradale manager, Paul Wise, said: "We took them on up front and once we gained ascendancy that's where we won the game."
Skipper Andrew Gardiner and big Magpies front-rowers Namatahi Waa and Joe Apikatoa led the way. "It was a tough battle and we got the win, so our focus is on Pirates next week before looking ahead to a possible rematch in the playoffs," Wise said.
Napier Old Boys Marist coach Craig Gowler was proud of his team's efforts but insisted they got beaten by the better side.
For Napier, big lock Alex Williams was again a standout.
HRS 35 NTOB 29
At Elwood Rd, Auto Super Shoppes Hastings Rugby and Sports hosted Altherm Window Solutions Napier Technical in blustery, cold conditions.
Tech coach Rod Cushing said a poor first 20 minutes cost them.
"We are happy to get the bonus points, considering other results today and looking forward to players returning over the next week or two."
The two bonus points that Tech collected will secure them a semi spot but it was the Hastings side that started better, with an early try to Neria Fomai.
HRS dominated the half and took a comprehensive 21-0 lead into halftime.
Tech came out firing in the second half with some great pressure on attack and, after a long period, a good carry from big prop Tim Farrell saw him work his way over the line for their first try. They were soon in again when centre Zac Guildford broke the HRS line 30m out for a run in near the posts.
It was some quick thinking from HRS halfback Connor McLeod that proved the turning point, stopping Tech's momentum, taking a quick tap and linking with fullback Jayden Rihia who did well to finish.
The Texans finished strongly with tries to Dolan Wilkins and Perrin Manuel, both from close quarters and the last play of the game saw Tech take a strategic penalty shot which was successful, securing a second bonus point and a likely replay against Hastings in the playoffs.
Hastings manager James Rosenberg acknowledged the appearance of Ausage Fomai in his 100th match, playing well in the unfamiliar position of first five-eighth. Neria Fomai was the HRS player of the match.
Cushing's pick of the day was former All Black Guildford, who was busy in his best game of the season.
Havelock North 29 Clive 20
It was a day of missed opportunities for hosts Andrew Clarke Clive Rugby and Sports as their semifinal hopes evaporated at Farndon Park, losing to Progressive Meats Havelock North. Both teams were in this very competitive match right up until the last few minutes.
"It was a good match as expected with Clive and we are happy to come away with 5 points after the last month," noted Havelock manager Richard Kinnear, who was referring to previous performances from the Villagers.
No 8 Albert Hemopo and lock Ben Morgan were players to shine in the forwards. Captain Trinity Spooner-Neera controlled the game well and wing Trent Hape showed some brilliant glimpses.
Clive's best were youngsters lock Donovan Mataira and No 8 Liam Udy-Johns as well as fullback Nick Biss, who attacked well.
Pirate 45 Tamatea 42
Tamatea were unlucky not to get their first win of the season, leading Tanalised Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports until late in the game when Pirate substitute Dion Savaii scored the match-winning try in the dying minutes.
It was a gutsy performance by the Tamatea side, which was acknowledged by Pirate manager Derek Paenga.
"We were lucky to come away with the win today, Tamatea showed good character and heart."
Tamatea manager Ricki Kirikiri was a disappointed man.
"There was some great running rugby by both sides today and maybe we were a bit unlucky."
Kirikiri acknowledged first five-eighth Ash Robinson, who was playing in his 50th match for the club and commended performances from Ngaiwi Hepi and Bayden Barber in the forwards.
Paenga's picks were lock Rangatira Fox, flanker Damien Scott and second five-eighth Ted Symes.
MAC 69 Central 26
What a difference a week makes. That is the fact for Enviro Clean and Restoration MAC who bounced back at Flaxmere Park with a win against Northfuels Central Hawke's Bay Rugby Sports. No one reflected that more than second five-eighth Alatasi Tupou who notched up an impressive 27 points in his team's victory.
MAC manager Anthony Morley knew his boys had to front against a nuggety Central side.
"We knew we had to throw the bathroom sink at these guys to get a positive outcome, Central have always been formidable opponents and they have a never say die attitude".
Morley noted the experience and firepower they had on their bench with Magpies Solomone Funaki and Kianu Kereru-Symes as well as Faalemiga Selesele adding the necessary impact for the home side.
Morley had praise for Tiki Greening was outstanding in aspects of play from No 8 and both Tupou and prop Paula Latu who scored three tries in a great team effort from a side who has had so much potential but who have struggled to put it together consistently this season.
For Central Prop Joel Hintz and flankers Jason Cutbush and Frank Lochore were among best forwards and enterprising centre Karl Lepelaars was the pick of the backs.