Winning wasn't everything for Northland men's and women's rugby sides against their Counties Manukau counterparts in Pukekohe, it was the only thing.
Beating Counties Manukau 24-15 was perhaps harder work than it needed to be but the only thing that mattered for the Taniwha in the Mitre 10 Cup was that they did it.
The Northland Kauri had earlier set the standard in the Farah Palmer Cup against Counties Manukau Heat, winning 32-20 prior to the Mitre 10 Cup match at the same venue on Sunday.
For the Taniwha, the focus now shifts to their home game in Whangārei on Saturday
against the very-recent Ranfurly Shield holders Taranaki. The amber and blacks surrendered the Shield to Otago in their first defence of a new reign on Sunday.
For the Steelers, rugby was not the winner for them at Navigation Homes' Stadium in Pukekohe, turning a bad season into a horror one - without a single victory so far in the Mitre 10 Cup.
A virtually empty stadium — a crowd so small, they could probably have all squeezed into the coaching box — watched a broken team in appalling conditions crushed in almost every aspect in the last quarter.
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The hosts were in charge at the break 12-3 and then nothing. They came back out so limp and insipid; so lifeless and one-dimensional.
And it wasn't just the fact they lost either, it was the way they lost. They meekly drifted out of the contest in the final 20 minutes when their scrum became a lost cause entirely and ill-discipline crept in.
Up on the key stats at half time — possession, territory and time in opposition 22 — the Steelers utterly conspired against themselves.
They had the wind at their backs but no one would have known. It didn't matter.
As Kobe Bryant said: "Winning takes precedence over all. There's no grey area. No almosts."
The way Northland turned the screws and pressured the Steelers into unforced errors is testament to the fact the team is better coached, more resilient, mentally tougher and blessed with more confidence.
The Taniwha were so resolute, you have to wonder what was in the engine.
The pack was full of honest workhorses.
Big bodies Josh Goodhue, Tom Robinson and No 8 Sam McNamara — up until he damaged his knee — were particularly outstanding, while beefy Ross Wright came on as a replacement and charged into everyone as if they had offended him. It made all the difference.
Something sparked in the Taniwha after the breather following a stuttering first half when the Steelers adapted better to the kick-fest that netted them two tries, including one to Kieran Read.
Northland were loose, forced and a touch wild and will perhaps not get away with such a poor 40 minutes again. No one should expect them to play with such profligacy again.
The Taniwha can only be thankful that while Counties Manukau were good at building momentum and applying enough pressure close to the tryline, they weren't so good at closing it out and scoring from it.
It was more a tribute to Northland's tenacity in defence. A case in point was when the Steelers won a lineout 5m from the Taniwha tryline in the 76th minute and set up a driving maul.
Replacement Joseph Casey peeled off the back and darted at the line but halfback Sam Nock got underneath and held up the ball.
Another passage of play minutes later saw Kara Pryor put his head down in a ruck as Counties hammered away from close range, forcing a penalty against Kirisi Kuridrani for not releasing the ball.
Former All Black Rene Ranger made a blockbusting return in the Cambridge blue colours with two intercepts — one contributed to a try — after he latched on to a Baden Kerr cut out pass on the halfway line and galloped down the midfield channel only to be chopped down by Etene Nanai-Seturo.
Northland skipper Jordan Olsen dotted down for his team's second try from the following passage of play.
Pisi Leilua scored the third which he made look straightforward but that's the art of good wing play - finishing the bread and butter stuff after Dan Hawkins opted to cross kick and the Northland winger made Nanai-Seturo come off second best when he snaffled the ball in mid-air.
Northland head coach George Konia was proud of the way his players sprung into life and closed out the game.
A combination of factors — discipline chief among them — he said hampered the way they played in the opening stanza when his team conceded nine penalties compared with just two in the second spell.
"We were helping the opposition get stronger but we tidied up a few areas like our discipline in the second half. We were tackling far too high so we adjusted in the second half and began to tackle low."
A potential Shield challenge is far from his mind.
"It's possible but, to be fair, I am more worried about our next game. If we get an opportunity to play in the Shield, that would be fantastic but a lot of things will have to align for that to happen," Konia said.
Northland's match at Semenoff Stadium on Saturday
will be their first under level 1 restrictions and Konia said the Taniwha were determined to put up a big fight for their fans.
"We have a six-day turnaround and the big focus will be on the recovery and clarity around our game plan. Taranaki traditionally have a big forward pack and they tend to kick a lot as well," Konia said.
"We're really excited to play at home in front of our fans and the key for us is to keep building on the momentum."
With two wins and a loss, Northland sit in fifth position with nine points on the Championship ladder.
The Northland Kauri versus North Harbour game will precede the Mitre 10 Cup match in Whangārei on Saturday.
Tickets for both matches are on sale from the Northland Rugby Union office on Kioreroa Rd as well as online www.taniwha.co.nz.