It's hard to find the right words to describe Northland's season in New Zealand's provincial rugby competitions this year.
When considering both the Taniwha and the Kauri in the same thought, you could say it's been a pretty mixed season.
Starting with the Taniwha, it's been a hard, long road. A consistent and unrelenting injury cloud was firmly fixed in place over the men from Northland this season with 11 players out injured before their last game against Otago last weekend.
The loss of experienced players like Tom Robinson, Jordan Olsen, Josh Goodhue and Rene Ranger was huge for a team with an abundance of new faces in the light of Northland Rugby's new local player picking policy.
It started well with a win against a hapless Southland in round one, but from then on, inspiration was hard to find in a Taniwha group which went on an eight-game losing streak.
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It was fitting then, that the final game against Otago at Whangārei's Semenoff Stadium ended with a glorious 40-10 win. The sun was out and for whatever reason, the Taniwha clicked into gear and produced their most fluent performance on attack this year.
However, the resounding win only seemed to add to this season's frustrations as despite a horrendous injury count, the boys from the north were able to put that to one side and produce a performance they could be proud of.
It begs the question, why was the team able to play this way only at the end of the season as opposed to the start when the injuries first started to pile on?
Maybe it was down to a change of mentality for the last game, or maybe it was because Otago had lost the Ranfurly Shield the week before and subconsciously checked out before their semifinal today?
Whatever the reason, at least the Northland rugby community were able to see some good running rugby from the men before 2019's season was out.
As for the women, they have gone from strength to strength, almost polar opposite to the men. In their first season ever in the Farah Palmer Cup, the Kauri were hit hard early with heavy yet understandable losses to experienced outfits from Hawke's Bay and Otago.
It was then that all the hard work and commitment shown by a group of passionate rugby players started to pay dividends as a final minute win over North Harbour was the first of four consecutive victories over Taranaki (twice) and Tasman.
The team play Hawke's Bay in a monumental Championship semifinal clash in Napier this afternoon and it's anyone's guess who takes the win. While the Tui won 64-31 last time the two teams met, Northland have come on in leaps and bounds since then and there's no telling what mark they could leave on New Zealand women's rugby in the years ahead.
In a mixed season such as this, crowd numbers always tell a story when it comes to public opinion. People speak with their wallets and it was always going to be interesting how a despairing Taniwha outfit would impact bums on seats.
I also wrote an opinion piece on the matter after the men played Manawatu in early September, losing in the final moments in what had been a game which should have been won by the Taniwha. My thoughts were if the Taniwha continued to produce sub-par rugby, the fans wouldn't replicate the scenes we saw against Hawke's Bay in August when more than 6000 people turned up.
This prediction turned out to be true with crowd numbers reaching as low as 2620 for the Bay of Plenty game on September 22, and was also the lowest crowd size for the past three seasons. The three other home games this year saw crowds of 3638 (Auckland), 3677 (Canterbury) and 3350 (Otago).
Interestingly, the two lowest crowd numbers were for games when the Kauri also played as a curtain-raiser, seemingly shooting down any theories that a Northland Rugby double-header would draw in the crowds this year.
Obviously, there is a lot of context to consider when viewing these numbers. From 2018 to 2019, crowd numbers increased from 18,699 to 19,317 which is a positive sign.
Northland Rugby's should get some credit for this as it seemed having a theme for each home game had a good effect when attracting the crowds.
Secondly, all five home games were played in pretty good conditions. I would have been interested to see how many of Northland's rugby faithful would trudge along to the stadium in heavy rain and a sharp wind.
Thirdly, Northland's crowd numbers are said to be in the top five of the country which says something about the dismal rates of attendance in other areas.
But when you see Hawke's Bay's men's team, who have had a great season this year and earned a home semifinal, attract more than 7000 for their game against Tasman, it shows what good form can do to your supporter base.
Obviously, the die-hard Northland fans reading this will always go along to the game and make up the numbers even when their team isn't performing on the day. I'm one of those people, a firm believer that if you have the chance to watch the game live, it is your duty as a proud fan to go along.
Hopefully, this season can raise the profile for the women's team for the years to come and encourage more to come along to watch them outclass and outgun their opponents.
But it seems the defining factor is if the men are winning, the crowds will come. Let's hope the heads at Northland Rugby can come together and devise a plan to make that happen in 2020.