Waipū's 12-game unbeaten streak in Northland's Bayleys premier men's rugby competition is finally over after losing 33-25 to Kamo on Saturday.
In what has been an extraordinary 2019 season for last year's runner-ups, Waipū showed their potential for the competition finals, maintaining a high level of play against all opposition.
Apart from jubilant celebration and desperate disappointment at the game's conclusion on Saturday, both teams would have been left with a distinct feeling of deja vu as it was Kamo whose unbeaten run in 2018 was stopped by the men in yellow and black before Kamo went on to win the final.
The game, played at Kamo Recreation Ground, was certainly fit for a final with both teams punching and counter-punching up until the final whistle. With the score at 14-10 to Kamo at halftime, everything was still to play for in front of fervent Kamo and Waipū supporters.
The home side's dominance came through their set piece, particularly in the lineout with three of Kamo's tries scored off the back of lineout drives. The visitors did well to stay in the game, often scoring directly after Kamo to keep pace with the home team.
Referee Boris Jurlina was kept busy as discipline was an issue for both sides, but he did well to conduct himself in a calm and measured manner in the face of some tense moments between passionate players.
The boot of Kamo first-five Blake Hohaia proved crucial for the home side as he knocked over four out of five conversions, often from out wide.
While Waipū first-five Wiseguy Faiane organised his backline well and picked up a try himself, he missed three of his four conversions which would have put more pressure back onto the Kamo unit.
With about seven minutes to go and Kamo leading by 28-25, a great run by Hohaia set up tighthead prop Alexander Gale to score a try and seal the win, much to the delight of the home crowd.
"We just had that edge because if we'd lost, there was no guarantee that we would get a top four spot, so we just had to dig in and that definitely played a part," Kamo coach Cameron Goodhue said.
"At training on Thursday, you could tell there was that edge there but our forward pack, that was the difference."
After a tepid start to the competition for the reigning champions, Goodhue believed his side was on the rise thanks to the return of team leaders like number eight, Ben Berridge, who also scored two tries on Saturday.
"We've probably just been a bit off the pace with our intent and I think in the last couple of weeks, getting a guy like [Berridge] back, he's just a guy that gets into it and the guys have jumped on board."
Waipū coach Graham Dewes said while he was disappointed with the loss, there were still positives to take from the performance.
"Obviously we wanted to win, but looking at the bright side, it's a result we needed, just to tell the boys that nothing is set in stone until the one at end," he said.
Dewes felt this loss would be a good wake-up call for his team who may have relaxed too much in their preparation for the game. He said Kamo's forward pack was the difference on the day and his side would know how to deal with them if the two sides played in the finals.
"Kamo were playing to their game plan and I think we got flustered a few times, but it can be a blessing in disguise because they've probably shown their hand and we can go back to the drawing board and work on it."
In the round's other games, Kerikeri upset the Western Sharks, 45-36, Old Boys Marist beat Hora Hora 64-0, Mid Northern beat Otamatea, 24-21 and Wellsford beat Hikurangi, 33-24.