The Covid-19 lockdown shut down a lot of different sports last month, but the Taitokerau Rugby League was pumped and ready to launch its finals matches across the north last weekend.
Everywhere from Kaeo to Broadwood, Waipapakauri to Moerewa, eight clubs went head-to-head in the TRL Premiership and Championship Preliminary Finals.
The Whangaroa Marlins kicked off the series at their home ground in Kaeo with a do-or-die effort against neighbours the Kerikeri Makos in the TRL Championship Minor Preliminary Final.
Although the grounds were a little heavy from the recent rain, the sun shone strongly on two teams determined to go through to the second round of the finals.
Both teams were well supported and responded with a high-scoring game won in the final minutes 40-36 by the Marlins, with the season ending for the Makos after a strong year.
Willy Mataafa ánd Rapene Bruce played well for the Marlins but were pipped for Player of the Day by Jamahl Stewart.
Over in Broadwood, the Pawarenga Broncos hosted the Hikurangi Stags in the TRL Championship Major Preliminary Final - a game with a lot of feeling, as it was the first time the two sides played each other following the tragic death of Stags player, Michael Salesi.
In his memory, the Stags turned up with a full squad ready to play and took the game to the Broncos from start to finish, in soaring summer temperatures.
The game was played hard and in great spirit, and although the Broncos threatened the line many times, they were turned back by the Stags who went to the break 22-10 ahead.
They eventually ran out to a 42-10 final scoreline, a score that didn't really reflect the intensity of the match.
The third game featured the Waipapakauri Bombers in a hard-fought TRL Premiership Minor Preliminary Final against the United Valley Crushers, who travelled up from their home base in Taheke with a horde of supporters.
Again it was a beautiful, sunny day with a big home crowd, including former Police Commissioner Mike Bush, former New Zealander of the Year Dr Lance O'Sullivan, former MP Hone Harawira, and a whole lot of unemployed rugby players wondering why they hadn't switched over to league earlier in the season!
The Bombers jumped out to an early lead by pushing the ball wide and forcing the Crushers to play it up the middle where their big men matched by the Bombers forwards.
When the Crushers finally got their gun outside backs in the game, they were able to peg back the Bombers but couldn't stop them from closing out the game 26-18.
And the big match of the day was a huge boilover in Moerewa, with the Ōtāngarei Knights tipping over the unbeaten playing through champions, Moerewa Tigers in the TRL Premiership Major Preliminary Final.
Clearly, the Knights had done their homework, playing with more intent and better execution to lead the Tigers 16-0 at the break.
It was clear throughout the second stanza the Knights were on a mission, and although the Tigers clawed their way back into the game, the Knights ran out 28-16 winners.
Standout Tigers players were the ever-committed duo Peter Prime and Henry 'the Rock' Wiki, and for the Knights Daley Johnson, Chris Nahi and Verne Wilson were the players of the day.
As a result, the Hikurangi Stags will march straight through to the Championship Grand Final, leaving the Pawarenga Broncos to play the Whangaroa Marlins in the Eliminator in Broadwood on Saturday.
Kerikeri Makos will start their planning for 2022 and the Moerewa Tigers will get a second life against the Waipapakauri Bombers as part of the Top 4.
In the Premiership Eliminator in Moerewa on Saturday, the winner will go through to play the Ōtāngarei Knights in the Premiership Grand Final, and the Valley Crushers will get an early shower after another excellent season.
The culmination of all this effort will be the Taitokerau Rugby League Grand Finals to be played in Moerewa on Saturday, October 9.
The Championship Grand Final will kick off at 1pm and the Premiership Grand Final at 2.30 pm.