The grimace on Pisi Leilua's face said it all.
The left winger, who ran his guts out all night, could only put his hands to his hips in frustration after he scored Northland's solitary try in the 80th minute in the home side's 43-10 loss to Auckland at the Northland Events Centre last night.
Leilua was one of a few bright sparks in Northland's unit which took on their big-city brothers on home turf. However, his try was one of consolation as a strong Northland crowd went home surely disappointed with the 33-point drubbing handed to them by their rivals from the big smoke.
Most of the Northland faithful would agree the score didn't reflect the performance put in by the Taniwha in their second outing of the Mitre 10 Cup and first at home. After a patchy but gritty win away to Southland the week before, many would have expected a spirited effort against last year's Premiership winners.
Despite the promise shown down south, Northland looked a different side with multiple changes being made, some forced due to injury and some tactical. Only Leilua and fellow winger Jordan Hyland kept their positions from last week's backline as Daniel Hawkins returned from injury as first-five.
Hawkins' inclusion meant an in-form Jack Debreczeni was moved to fullback while Scott Gregory was pushed to centre alongside second five Matt Johnson who played centre against Southland. Hora Hora's Jaycob Matiu also had his first start of the season at number eight in place of Aorangi Stokes who failed a head injury assessment (HIA) in last week's game.
In spite of their changes, it was Northland who took the lead early against the visitors after three minutes of play thanks to Debreczeni who nailed an easy penalty. However, the advantage only lasted eight minutes as Auckland lock Jack Whetton crashed over with a conversion from first five D'angelo Leuila to lead the game 7-3.
A mistake in midfield from Northland second five Johnson four minutes later gifted Auckland left winger Caleb Clarke their second try as he picked up the spoils of a knock-on and extended the lead to 14-3.
Another converted try to Auckland's other lock Jaime Lane and a penalty from Leuila rounded out a dominant half for the visitors as they took a 24-3 lead into the sheds at halftime. The first 40 minutes was scrappy for both sides but as was the story for last night's game, Auckland made the most of their opportunities.
Northland, in a conservative estimate, had half-a-dozen clear chances to cross the Auckland line with the majority of which occurring in the second half. However, a combination of great defence and poor execution kept Northland nearly tryless all game.
Despite the visitors putting a further 19 points on the home team through tries from AJ Lam, Tanielu Tele'a and TJ Faiane, the second half could have been the kickstart of a Northland revival had the rub of the green fancied the Taniwha.
Lineouts were a key area of concern for Northland with multiple lineouts stolen or disrupted in the first half. The introduction of reserve lock Sam Caird seemingly fixed those issues in the second half and put in a performance worthy of a starting jersey in the near future.
Matiu's first start in number eight was an inspired one for the Taniwha as well as he used his considerable strength to bust rare holes in a strong Auckland defence. Debreczeni also looked a class above once he was moved back to first receiver, as he set up Northland's only try in what looked a distracted backline.
In his post-match interview, Northland captain Jordan Olsen chuckled as sideline commentator Richard Turner suggested the winner be determined by "last try wins" but he admitted a lot needed improving.
"Unfortunately, we only put it together at the end there and didn't quite put any sequences together throughout the whole game, so it's a good way to finish but obviously a lot to work on," Olsen said.
"There's a lot of little detail that we were missing [last night], so obviously next week we'll be working on that a lot, but Auckland is a good, clinical side and they showed that today so full credit to them."
Understandably lost for words in the analysis of his side's loss, Olsen commended the crowd for their turnout in the hope they could earn the fans' respect with an away win against Taranaki in nine days' time before their next home game against Hawke's Bay on August 31.
"The crowd, through thick and thin, they are always here so you can't ask for more than that, they are a great fan base up here."