A group of local players had to dig deep to come from behind and claim the regional title in Rotorua last month.
Courtesy of a dramatic match-winning try in golden-point extra-time, Te Tai Tokerau beat Bay of Plenty in the grand final of the mixed under-14 division at the Touch NZ IPS (inter provincial series) tournament run from January 28-29.
Te Tai Tokerau coach Matt Kopa described the final as a game of two halves after his side were trailing 3-0 at halftime.
"But our team never gave up," he said, noting the second half whistle saw Te Tai Tokerau team return to the fray ready to make a comeback.
And comeback it did in no uncertain terms by drawing the score level at 3-all. The two sides then went tit-for-tat until the final whistle where at 5-all, the game had to go into drop-off mode (where one player from each team is removed every two minutes and first try wins).
It was down to four players on each side when Te Kauri Parkinson touched down the winning try with some "footwork and individual brilliance" off the 5m line.
"The team and all supporters were all screaming and jumping up and down with joy. What a game to remember!"
Kopa noted the IPS represented the highest level tamariki in the north aged from 10 to 14 (in boys, girls, and mixed grades) could play at.
The side was drawn in its pool with Thames Valley and Bay of Plenty, beating both teams on day one (where MVP was Niki Lawrence), before meeting them again in the semis and finals on day two (where MVP was Takoha o te Rangi Lunjevich).
He said all his players - who travelled from as far away as Matauri Bay, Okaihau, Matawaia and Tautoro - had displayed "amazing commitment" to make the twice-weekly trainings in Kaikohe for the three months leading up to the regionals.
Kopa also wanted to emphasise the massive support the side had been given from the wider Mid North/ Bay of Islands community and which proved integral to its success, particularly once it was learned the cost per player to attend was going to be around the $400 mark.
"The employment rate in the north is the lowest in the country so finding the fee money was a mission in itself," said Kopa.
Most of the players were fortunate enough to have their fees paid by extended whanau, while various sponsorships from local businesses provided the shortfall along with a van to transport the team to Rotorua and back.