This was arguably the most epic of club rugby finishes in Northland one can witness.
For all the crunching hits and wizardry throughout an enthralling encounter between hosts Waipū and Mid Northern at Caledonian Park on Saturday, the last quarter was a dog fight as the home side hammered away at the tryline searching for the equaliser.
And they did, through centre and debutant Latham Aull who dug in his studs and powered his way to the try line.
But Waipu were hungry for more and provided the entertainment extraordinaire— the 'ooh' moment their small but vocal group of supporters perhaps didn't envisage when making their way to the park.
With time almost up, winger Kaveni Dabenaise latched on to a Mid Northern pass 40 metres away from the try line but knocked the ball in a tackle.
The Tyrepower premier match ended in a 17-all draw.
It was energy-sapping stuff, and for all the pressure Waipū absorbed for most of the game, something clicked in the last quarter and the hosts started playing a brand of rugby that featured a potent mix of ruggedness, creativity, dynamism and patience.
The visitors were full of running and the hosts full of defending for large parts of this thrilling match. Mid Northern were prepared to mix things up and went about their work in a methodical fashion. But Waipū had a knack for scrambling well in defence.
They didn't panic, even when defending attacks near their try line. Mid Northern would have been gutted at having been unable to score more tries, given the amount of possession and territory the side enjoyed for extended periods of time.
Skipper Jonah Mau'u, prop Daniel Mau'u and No 8 Sam McNamara in particular defended as if their lives depended on it while fullback Pisi Leilua was the go-to between the back and the forwards for Waipu.
It was an interesting duel between Northland taniwha players McNamara and Mid Northern No 8 Rob Rush, who suffered the ignominy of being sin-binned with four minutes to go for a high tackle after referee Boris Jurlina repeatedly warned the visitors to watch their discipline.
Both teams showed plenty of intent from the opening whistle but Mid Northern were quick to gain ascendancy, using a massive forward pack and an electrifying backline to punch holes into the opposition defence.
They would have been annoyed that while they made good inroads into the hosts' 22m line, the finishing was not quite up to par in the face of a resolute Waipu defence.
It took Mid Northern 21 minutes to put points on board through a try by captain Kalani Going. The try preceded a scything midfield run by Jordan Olsen, playing at blindside, who flung an inside pass to Going to open the scores.
Waipū responded minutes later through Jonah Mau'u off a pick-and-go and the scores were level at 7-7 until the Mid Northern skipper managed to break multiple tackles off a ruck and dived in to score his and Mid Northern's second try just before the breather.
The hosts could have barged in for their second try but for the heroics of Rush, who laid his hands early on the ball during a rolling maul and forced a turnover.
Hooker Valance Yates touched down for Mid Northern's third try and it seemed his side had just too much firepower for Waipu to contain.
There was pace, power, panache as well as flow, cohesion and physical clout as Mid Northern ramped up the pressure and pinned Waipū in their own half.
But the hosts had other ideas. They weren't prepared to let down the proud history of the club— the third oldest in New Zealand.
"If the boys are willing to work hard for each other, then the rest does it for itself. We just had to be patient off our ball. We built 12 to 15 phases, just kept trucking, so it was a matter of staying consistent and holding on to that ball," skipper Jonah Mau'u said.
"We were happy to get over that last try. For us forwards, it was just to lay that platform for our backs to have a strike and get over the line for us. We turned defence into attack and thought if we are patient and keep at it, we're going to get the results."
Dan Mau'u, Bruce Kauika-Petersen, Mahue Dewes, Tom Strachan, Deon Mau'u, Latham Aull and Lomano Crichton made their debuts for Waipū on Saturday.
The Mid Northern captain said Waipū saved the best for last. "We went off our game and got a bit flat. It's only the second round so a lot to improve on."