The Bay of Plenty Steamers are proving they just might be the real deal this season.
Two games, two wins and two bonus points see them sitting atop the Mitre 10 Cup Championship table.
Today they beat Premiership side Waikato 40-14 at Rotorua International Stadium which also means they are the new Chiefs Country Cup holders, contested whenever two teams from the Chiefs region play each other.
Waikato spent the opening 10 minutes camped in Steamers territory and the pressure paid off when centre Quinn Tupaea showed great upper body strength to crash through the line and score in the right hand corner. First five Fletcher Smith converted and Waikato led 7-0 but the home side did not panic.
Steamers lock Baden Wardlaw, who plays his club rugby for Whakarewarewa in Rotorua, said there was belief and trust between the players this season which gave them confidence they could get out of any situation.
"Waikato came out with a hiss and we were on D for the first eight or 10 minutes but just like last week we held on. It all starts with the culture, preseason and the help of our experienced boys - we've got Nate Harris, an All Black, all the Super Rugby boys, it's massive for the team."
The Steamers hit back in the 13th minute and just like the week before against Otago, it was their forward pack who got them on the front foot.
They won a penalty in the Waikato 22m and called for a scrum. The Steamers then drove Waikato backwards before halfback Richard Judd scooped the ball off the back and sliced through a gap to score. First five Dan Hollinshead converted and the score was locked at 7-all.
After 24 minutes the Steamers took the lead and again it was all through the forwards.
They won a scrum penalty on the Waikato 22m with another impressive, heaving effort. The Steamers found touch 5m out, won the lineout and after multiple hit-ups prop Ross Geldenhuys bulldozed his way across the line under the posts. Hollinshead converted and the home side led 14-7.
Bay of Plenty extended the lead to 17-7 minutes later when they won a penalty just outside the 22m and in front of the posts. Hollinshead made no mistake with the kick to add to an ever-growing personal points tally.
Virtually straight from the kickoff, the Steamers were in again, this time through a piece of individual brilliance by winger Joe Ravouvou on his Steamers debut.
He got the ball near halfway, shrugged off a tackle and showed blinding pace to race away and score. Hollinshead missed the conversion but the Steamers held a commanding 22-7 lead with eight minutes left in the half.
Late in the first half, Waikato's Tupaea scored his second try to ensure the away side were right in the game at halftime. Waikato made good metres up the middle before whipping the ball right. Flanker Hamilton Burr charged into the Bay of Plenty half, found fullback Rivez Reihana on the outside and he slipped the ball inside to Tupaea who raced away to score under the posts. Smith converted and reduced the deficit to 14-22 at the break.
The Steamers were dominant at the start of the second half and extended their lead when Emoni Narawa, fresh off the bench, crashed over under the posts after a scrum inside the Waikato 22m. Hollinshead converted and Bay of Plenty led 29-14.
Waikato were inviting pressure, kicks out on the full and handling errors in their half opening the door for the Steamers. With 15 minutes left to play Hollinshead kicked another penalty to extend the lead to 32-14.
With four minutes left Hollinshead kicked another penalty, extending his points tally for the night to 15 and the lead to 35-14.
Right on fulltime, Steamers fullback Chase Tiatia rounded out a man of the match performance with a try on the back of a scintillating team move to make the final score 40-14.
Wardlaw said it was always special to play in front of the home crowd.
"I pretty much call this home, I've been here four or five years now. I played for Rotoiti first, it's a club I always hold close to my heart and obviously switching over to Whakarewarewa, this is pretty much home for me."
He started the game against Otago last week but came off the bench against Waikato, something he said he wasn't used to.
"The first 10 minutes I'm just blowing, got rocks in my legs but the mindset is always there. You just have to come on and do your role, run hard and carry hard, bring the team home."
Steamers assistant coach Mike Delany, another Rotorua old boy, said the team started "a bit scratchy" against Waikato but were able to pull it together.
"There were a comedy of errors early on but we slowly composed ourselves, got out of our half and then in doing so added some more pressure on them and came away with points which is great."
It's always good to come back to the hangi pit (Rotorua International Stadium). I love this ground and the boys love playing here so it was good to put in a good performance.
He said the message at halftime, holding an eight-point lead, was to maintain that composure and be accurate.
Just last year Delany was playing first five for the Steamers himself and he has been impressed by the way Hollinshead has taken over the number 10 jersey.
"I thought Dan was awesome out there today, he kicked well and led the boys around the park. It was good to bring Jason [Robertson] on as well and be able to play that dual pivot role. The boys off the bench added value which was pleasing.
"It's always good to come back to the hangi pit (Rotorua International Stadium). I love this ground and the boys love playing here so it was good to put in a good performance."
Bay of Plenty 40 Waikato 14
Bay of Plenty try scorers: Richard Judd, Ross Geldenhuys, Joe Ravouvou, Emoni Narawa, Chase Tiatia.
Waikato try scorers: Quinn Tupaea (2).