Waipū have their second premier rugby title in as many years after they reclaimed their crown with a nail-biting win over Mid Northern on Saturday.
Playing at home at Caledonian Park with spectators fenced off from the ground, the two teams put on an enthralling display, going into extra time with the scores locked at 15-all after fulltime.
Waipū scored early through enterprising fullback Pisi Leilua before the visitors struck back with an unconverted try and a penalty to take an 8-5 lead. However, the home side hit back through kicker Wiseguy Faiane who kicked a penalty and converted his No 8 Saimoni Uluinakauvadra's try to lead 15-8.
With only minutes remaining, Mid Northern levelled the score through a converted try, sending the two teams into two 10-minute periods of extra time.
In his first kick of the game, Waipū's Ben Mathers successfully converted the 45 metre penalty which gave his side the lead going into the final five minutes of extra time.
It was then up to Mid Northern to score which would either win the game or take it to golden point if it was a tie. The visitors earned a penalty 22m out from the Waipū line but chose to kick to the corner, turning down the chance at three points.
The decision was proved to be the wrong one as Waipū were able to regain possession and wear down the clock until their second title in 144 years was secured.
"They came out with a hiss and a roar, the boys were bloody good," Waipū head coach Marley Mackay said.
"Our forward pack was outstanding. Through the middle, we had [Mid Northern] beat and our set-piece was a lot stronger."
Despite their success last year, Waipū could have been seen as underdogs in Saturday's contest, considering they had only four substitutes as the result of injuries to key players and their five Auckland players being barred from travelling due to Covid-19 restrictions.
With only 17 players taking the field on Saturday, Mackay credited his team on their resilience and heart.
"When we went to extra time, another 20 minutes, the boys had to put in a massive shift because they had already played 80 and we didn't have subs."
Mackay highlighted fullback Leilua as a stand-out for the side, as well as Mathers who had been an influential figure in the group this season.
He commended Mid Northern on what was a thrilling final.
"The only way it's worth winning is if the other team is a worthy opponent and [Mid Northern] were definitely worthy, the game could have gone either way."
Mid Northern head coach Corey Anderson said he was glad his side put up a good fight against the defending champions.
"It was a cracker of a game and Waipū deserved to win, so we'll take that on board and we'll be ready for next year," he said.
Anderson, who was new to the club, said he was pleased to see his players buy into the new direction of the club after disappointing results in previous years.
"They were ninth last year and I think they were ninth the year before, so to get into the final is massive for the club and for the boys.
Regarding the decision to give up the shot at goal and chase the try in the final minutes, Anderson said he supported his leadership team's decision and felt on another day, things could have been very different.
"They obviously thought that they were going to score and close the game off completely.
"It's a 50/50 thing, if we had have scored off that, they'd be heroes so it's a pretty tough call."
In Saturday's other rugby finals, Te Rarawa pipped Awanui 22-19 in the north zone championship final and Otamatea beat Mid Western 29-24 in the south zone final. In the Bay of Islands final, Otiria beat Ohaeawai 31-26.