Northland's intent and belief is being praised after the Taniwha recorded a preseason win over Counties Manukau on Friday night in Kaikohe.
The home side, who won 20-15, clinched the victory with a converted try in the final minutes at Lindvart Park on a cold, wet evening in Kaikohe. In what was a good first hit out for both sides, there will be much for both camps to work on as they build to the Mitre 10 Cup's first round next week.
The game started well for the visitors who held the ball well in the early stages. Good work from Northland first five Tom Smith, who found space in behind the Counties Manukau defence, and busting line breaks from left wing Pisi Leilua gave the home side some momentum.
Northland were the first to score after 20 minutes after a clever kick and chase off the scrum from halfback Sam Nock, saw the ball bounce kindly for flanker Sam McNamara who crashed over the line.
An unconverted try and penalty for the visitors saw them take the lead, 8-5 before Smith knocked over a penalty prior to halftime which gave Northland a two-point lead going into the final 40 minutes.
Northland number eight, Jaycob Matiu was a huge presence across the park, making use of his talent of punching holes through defensive lines. Despite an early Counties Manukau try, Northland heaped pressure onto the visitors throughout the second half and looked odds on to score and did so through fullback Jonty Rae.
Even through the rain and the cold, the Northland unit pushed on, the desire to win clear on the faces of Northland's forward pack who held their scrum and afforded their backline the chance to score the match-winning try.
"We've talked about winning this year and we're trying to create a winning culture so it is a good start, however it's only preseason and there's still a lot to work on," Northland coach Derren Witcombe said.
"I'm just really pleased with the whole group because we've basically thrashed them for three weeks and for them to go out and play to the end was pretty cool, [I'm] pretty proud of them."
Witcombe said the game was a good opportunity to see what was required at the breakdown and contact areas.
"The intent in everything we did was there so we've just got to fine-tune a few things, set piece and probably all facets of our contact play, we've just got to get lower."
Northland's next preseason game is against North Harbour at the Mahurangi Rugby Club on Thursday before their first Mitre 10 Cup game away to Southland on August 8.