If you thought the result of this match was a foregone conclusion the veil of gloom lifted at Semenoff Stadium, where Northland proved they are capable of producing rugby that would satisfy anyone's definition of physicality.
The 48-29 score against Tasman Mako in the Bunnings Warehouse NPC on Saturday
didn't truly reflect the brand of rugby the hosts produced, and despite losing yet again the side rattled some of the big names with a massive defensive effort for the most part.
The Cambridge Blue showed their intent early, building enough pressure in the right areas of the field with the speed and physicality of their ball carrying, and were rewarded with the first try by veteran halfback Sam Nock, who sold a dummy off a ruck and dived over in just the eighth minute.
Despite having All Black Shannon Frizell, blockbusting centre Leicester Fainga'anuku, and flyhalf Mitch Hunt directing play, the visitors conceded too many penalties in the opening quarter but they also managed to score three times in quick succession.
The sheer physicality took its toll on both sides. Northland No 8 Rob Rush went down in a tackle, got up gingerly, and had to be assisted off the field with what appeared to be a knee injury.
He was massive upfront and, together with Kaliopasi Uluilakepa, Sam Caird, Josh Goodhue and skipper Jordan Olsen, were not afraid to put the shoulder in while defending their line.
Uluilakepa had the game of his life. He was a one-man highlights reel and took it as a personal affront if someone didn't have a go at him.
There was nothing pedestrian about Northland as there occasionally was in previous matches and the side should beat some good sides with a repeat of this performance.
Northland's set piece, especially their lineout drive which led to a couple of tries, worked a treat while there was pace, power and panache in the backline that worked well in tandem with the forwards.
Olsen was proud of the effort his side put in for large parts of the game.
"There's still a few areas to work on as always but we made them work for that win, which is pleasing for us because they are a quality side. We can take a lot of good things out of that game but there are still lots to keep building on, which is exciting for the rest of the season.
"They got some big ball carriers, big runners, and coming into this game we had the chop-focus, wanted to just put the big boys on the ground. For the most part I think we did that. Just gotta go low and it made them play out of their own half."
The start was great, he said, as his players had a lot of energy coming back into this week after the lockdown.
While ruing the three tries Northland leaked in the second quarter, Olsen said they dug deep and were able to bounce back in the second half with a potent mix of attacking and defensive rugby.
"Our set piece was great. It's something we as a forward pack take massive pride in, it's part of our game. It's something we've worked hard on all week and even during the break, so it's very pleasing to see that come off for us.
"There's a lot of good things and, most importantly, there's a lot of heart that probably to be fair wasn't there in the first couple of games. You can have the best game plan around but if you don't have the ticker to execute it, it's worth nothing."
Tasman co-captain and Highlander Mitch Hunt lamented his side's poor discipline in the first quarter that allowed Northland to lift their confidence.
"I think probably at times we try and force it a little bit too much too early, so if we're patient with the ball we can get that momentum and stay on top for longer.
"It was tough. They got some great opportunities in patches and in that second half you could see their confidence build. I think a lot of that was down to our poor discipline and they just grew and got better with their game.
"Their breakdown was strong, they put pressure on us too so, hopefully that's getting a bit of rust and cobwebs out of our game for next week against Waikato."
The match was played under alert level 2 protocols, with two bubbles of 100 Northland rugby sponsors in attendance.
Northland's next NPC game is against Manawatu at Palmerston North this Saturday.