Defending champions Tamatea sealed the Hawke's Bay rugby league minor premiership with a week to spare when they beat last year's beaten finalists Outkast Sports 26-20 on Saturday.
Playing at Kirkpatrick Park, Hastings, it was Tamatea's 15th win in a row since losing a semifinal in 2010. In a rematch of last year's finalists, the victory gave them a four-point buffer over Outkast and in-and-out Napier side Maraenui Phoenix as the sides prepare for this year's semifinals on October 6.
On their home ground in Napier, Maraenui bounced back from a pitiful default the previous week with a 63-20 win which all-but ended the playoff hopes of Flaxmere Falcons, while leading fourth-berth contenders Tech Seals hammered Omahu Huia 62-22, at Whitmore Park, Napier.
In the other match, in Hastings, Bridge Pa kept their name in the frame with a third win in a row, beating fellow first-time Premier-graders Napier Pirate Panthers 36-30.
Tamatea's win was built around the experience of their forwards, including player-of-the-day Richie Eagle and fellow veteran prop Boy Waaka, along with loose hooker Colin Hokianga, who battled on despite injury, and loose forward Hamiora Rowlands. Also helping round off the team for coach Adrian Rowlands are some younger backs, including fullback Tyson Johnson who put in a promising performance.
Eagle, Hokianga and Rowlands all scored tries, with regular tryline-busting backs Hayzley Robson and Mika Mika adding the others.
Tamatea have the easy-road this week, playing Omahu who slipped to the bottom of the table on points differential, as a result of a chronic demise after leading the Seals 22-18 at halftime. They did not score again, capitulating as the Seals scored 44 points in the second half, finishing the match with 12 tries.
It meant a busy day for league chairman and 1980s Kiwi international front-rower Kevin Tamati who had to referee. Having already done an Under 15s game earlier in the day, he did well controlling the one-way traffic in the second half.
Phoenix also scored 12 tries in their win, and, in what could be a playoff-deciding match this Saturday, play Bridge Pa, whose win came despite a spirited performance from the Panthers.
If Bridge Pa beat Phoenix and if Seals beat Panthers, the third and fourth playoff positions will be decided on points differentials.