Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this Northland side is their ability to eke out a win even if not on song and despite missing key players.

Southland learned just that at Okara Park on Thursday evening when the Taniwha weren't totally convincing yet won 26-10 in the Mitre 10 Cup competition.

The victory has propelled Northland into third place on the table with just one home game left, against Waikato on October 5.

But there is no denying the Stags, despite being hamstrung by injuries, were able to look better for most of the second half than they really were as the Taniwha strayed from the hit and run play that served them so well in the opening spell.

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Northland centre Scott Gregory played out of his skin, constantly looking for space to exploit on the fringes and taking on the Southland defence with his direct running.

The visitors will be gutted they leaked three tries in 10 minutes when their defensive system looked like the cheese on a taco already eaten.

That was the killer- their desire to keep kicking for territory when it was so painfully apparent the likes of Gregory, Rene Ranger and Matt Matich, in particular, were cutting up on the counter attack.

Northland halfback Sam Nock scores his team's second try in their win against Southland at Okara Park. Photo/Michael Cunningham
Northland halfback Sam Nock scores his team's second try in their win against Southland at Okara Park. Photo/Michael Cunningham

Having had just 21 per cent of possession in the opening 12 minutes and down 3-0, Northland struck through Matich who received a timely pass from Kara Pryor and dotted down in the corner.

Minutes later, halfback Sam Nock darted over from a ruck before lock Douglas Murray fielded a long pass from Jack Debreczeni and dived in the corner.

Prop Isileli Tu'ungafasi was one angry man, swatting defenders aside with his bullocking runs and was among Northland's best-performing in the tight five.

Suddenly the Taniwha went from having 21 per cent of the ball to 51 per cent and it looked like a one-way traffic from there on.

But it wasn't to be as Northland were guilty of eight handling errors and their scrum was almost a lost cause entirely.

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And that was the problem for the Stags. Northland didn't need to be at their best to beat them.

They just had to do the basics, make their tackles, show slightly better discipline and inevitably scored 19 points.

Even when Northland became loose for much of the second half, Southland brought more grit and commitment to their game but couldn't befriend the scoreboard.

When Southland lock Manaake Selby-Rickit scored in the 64th minute off a rolling maul when Northland were warned to watch their discipline, it seemed it was game on.

The Stags had flashes of brilliance such as Isaac Te Tamaki gathering a grubber kick and would have sped off to the tryline had he not knocked the ball on.

Flanker Tony Lamborn was turning the ball over and their set piece was working well but what Southland lacked was creativity and an inability to prise open the Northland defence.

Where it leaves their season is hard to tell.

In pieces, obviously, but the question now is, are they in free fall or do they have the fight within them to find their way back to respectability.

All Northland needed was another score to close out the game and it came via Douglas after a patient build up with simple ball carrying, chipping away, and just being patient off tight play.

Northland take on Hawke's Bay at McLean Park in Napier on Wednesday before meeting Counties Manukau at Ecolight Stadium in Pukekohe on September 30.