McCarthy's Transport Ruapehu maintained their unbeaten Tasman Tanning Premier record despite a second half comeback from Waverley Harvesting Border in Ohakune, winning 27-15 on Saturday.
In the rematch of last year's thrilling semifinal, it seemed like favourites Ruapehu were initially too strong for the current Border lineup, scoring a converted try in the first few minutes, before fullback Mitchell Millar traded penalty goals with Border's Craig Clare, returning to play against the club he helped win two titles, for 10-3.
Ruapehu were dominating territory and in showed on the scoreboard, as standout flanker Jamie Hughes and the first-five/halfback combination of Josh Fifita and Kahl Elers-Green scored.
Millar, who had a 21st birthday to celebrate, converted the tries plus added another penalty to put his team in the catbird seat at 27-3.
No doubt given a rark-up by their coach Ross Williams, who had been thinking about this game for some time, Border were a changed team at halftime, with Ruapehu being asked the question on defence as the aggression picked up.
Prop Kamipeli Latu, who with front row partner Hamish Mellow had a good tussle with Ruapehu brothers Gabriel and Te Uhi Hakaraia, scored a try, as did Border captain and halfback Lindsay Horrocks as part of his good match.
In the loose forwards, Border's Angus Middleton was his usual niggly self, while Ruapehu's key man Campbell Hart continued his excellent season.
Ruapehu will have have the chance to stamp themselves as clear favourites for the Division 1 crown when Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist bring the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield north this coming Saturday.
Back at the Country Club, Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau rebounded from their narrow loss to Byford's Readimix Taihape to maintain third spot with a big 54-0 win over Harvey Round Motors Ratana.
Scoring eight tries, three in the first half and five more in the second against their tiring opposition.
Winger Clive Stowers returned to score a hat trick, while first-five Ethan Robinson got a double, and fullback Shandon Scott regained his kicking confidence after last week to pop over seven conversions.
It seems clear there will be one club that stays up in the new six-team Division 1 who will struggle when the split happens in June, as either Ratana or Settler's Honey Ngamatapouri will stay up based on their last game in the round.
Ngamatapouri were smashed 87-14 by Taihape after the long journey over to Memorial Park.
The South Taranaki beekeepers, who again have some standout ball-runners but not a lot of set piece strength, have been competitive in matches up to this stage, yet Taihape already had a bonus point in less than 20 minutes were four unconverted tries.
Ngamatapouri were lucky they did not give away the dreaded triple digits, as Taihape converted just six of their 15 tries, with James Barrett finishing on a 22-point haul by also scoring two tries.
Hooker Dylan Gallien got a hat trick of tries, while speedy back Tyler Rogers-Holden also got a double.
That was the only spectacle for the Memorial Park fans to watch, as Senior rugby neighbours Bennett's Taihape and Utiku Old Boys both picked up five points for default victories to sit on top of the table.
The woes of Black Bull Liquor Pirates, who lost by 110 points on their last trip to Memorial Park, have continued, as they now started for Border, who were championship semifinalists last year but likewise did not muster a full squad for the long trip across the WRFU catchment.
Winning without playing kept both Taihape and Utiku ahead of Marist Celtic and Kelso Hunterville, who picked up tight victories on Saturday against Marist Buffalos and Kaierau respectively.
Playing their club derby game on Old Timers Day, Celtic wore WRFU jerseys against their brethren, and the Buffalo's gave them a tough test, closing the gap to 26-19 at fulltime after being 12 points down at the break.
Hunterville also had to overcome a second half comeback by Kaierau at the Country Club, holding on 27-23 after leading by ten points at halftime.
And after their tough start to the season with three narrow losses, Counties have kept alive their slight hopes of still making the top 4 to qualify for the new Division 2 after a comprehensive 32-10 win over Speirs Food Marton at McNab Domain, leapfrogging them on the points table.
Results, May 11
Tasman Tanning Premier, Week 5
Grand Hotel Challenge Shield: Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist 57 (Luke Foster 2, Taione Ratu, Caleb Crosse, Brad Graham, Ashton Coates, Cameron Neilson, Simon Dibben, Ricky Alabaster tries; Peni Nabainivalu 2 con, Coates 2 con, Alabaster con, Bronson Tumai con) bt Black Bull Liquor Pirates 14 (Peika Peika try; Peika 3 pen. HT: 17-6.
Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau 54 (Clive Stowers 3, Ethan Robinson 2, Joe Edwards, Cameron Davies, Te Tua Kemp tries; Shandon Scott 7 con) bt Harvey Round Motors Ratana 0. HT: 21-0.
McCarthy Transport Ruapehu 27 (Jamie Hughes, Josh Fifita, Kahl Elers-Green tries; Mitchell Millar 2 pen, 3 con) bt Waverley Harvesting Border 15 (Kamipeli Latu, Lindsay Horrocks tries; Craig Clare pen, con). HT: 27-3.
Byford's Readimix Taihape 87 (Dylan Gallien 3, James Barrett 2, Tyler Rogers-Holden 2, Tremaine Gilbert, Peter Hay-Horton, Hadlee Hay-Horton, Ryan Karatau, Te Ati Mumby, Luke Whale, Regan Collier, Hoani Woodhead tries; Barrett 6 con) bt Settlers Honey Ngamatapouri 14 (Timoci Seruwalu, Josaia Dawai tries; Dawai 2 con). HT: 44-7.
Senior, Week 6
At Spriggens Park: Marist Celtic bt Marist Buffalo's 26-19. HT: 12-0.
At Kaierau Country Club: Kelso Hunterville bt Kaierau 27-23. HT: 21-11.
At McNab Domain: Counties bt Speirs Food Marton 32-10. HT: 19-10.
At Taihape (Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield): Bennett's Taihape bt Black Bull Liquor Pirates by default.
At Taihape: Utiku OB bt Border by default.