The mojo has left perennial Meads Cup favourites Steelform Wanganui, as for the second consecutive match a comfortable lead was run down in the second half, with goal kicking proving decisive, as Buller just got home 22-21 in Westport today.
Wanganui have now lost their three opening games, which no team has done in the 13 years of the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship and still gone on to win the Meads Cup, while only one – Poverty Bay in 2008 – has claimed the Lochore Cup.
Holding a 14 point lead approaching halftime and then a nine point lead in the final quarter, it was penalties, missed tackles and risky play inside their own 22m which offered Buller's dynamic first-five James Lash the chances he needed to turn the tide back to his team after their own mistake-riddled effort.
Lash didn't have to be asked twice, setting up the converted try to second-five Iliesa Ravudra to close the gap to two points in the 66th minute, and then just five minutes later slotting the clutch penalty from out near the sideline to give his team the lead.
Wanganui had the chance to steal the game back with a penalty of their own approaching injury time, but from the difficult wide angle and in the face of some very vocal discouragement from the home town supporters, reserve first-five Dane Whale couldn't slot it.
As he did in the opening away game in Masterton, Whale came on at halftime after returning first-five Craig Clare was injured, with his pectoral muscle likely to need a scan and at least a couple of weeks recovery time.
It was of little consolation to Wanganui that their execution with ball in hand had improved from the Thames Valley loss, as well as their penalty count being lower, because those issues have still not been purged and coming down the stretch it was Buller who lifted and then clung on with turnovers and clearing kicks.
"It's not through lack of effort," said captain Campbell Hart, returning from the NZ Heartland XV game with Manu Samoa.
"We felt like we played a lot better, but we just couldn't get over the line.
"[The Lash penalty] we possibly should have kicked that [clear], but hindsight's a good thing.
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"We've won more tight games in the past than we've lost.
"It's just not going our way – yet. We'll keep fighting."
Assistant coach Jason Hamlin none of the problems plaguing the team are "unfixable".
"The elements are the same [in each loss] - probably penalties, not as much as last week, just at importune times.
"We were trying to contest ball that [the ref's] calling lost.
"We dropped two high balls, a couple of passes that didn't go to hand."
Wanganui made a good start with winger Vereniki Tikoisolomone scoring his first two tries for Wanganui in the same corner spot, with one of them coming from a kick chase that Buller were too causal getting back for.
However, Hamlin thought that encouragement saw the team try the attacking kick option too many times, as they had know further success.
"We didn't treasure the ball enough, came back to bite us in the end.
"We're not ticking all the boxes where we need to. It's not good enough at the moment."
Tikoisolomone's first try came after just seven minutes as Wanganui worked into a three man overlap in the corner, with Clare raising the flags from the sideline.
Hart ripping the ball back off Buller as they attacked out of their own half opened up another opportunity, as the lightning quick winger raced after the chip ahead and caught the home team's back three defenders napping, with Clare pin-point on the conversion once again.
However, Wanganui were soon to lose their veteran playmaker as he stayed down clutching his shoulder area after Buller attacked from winning a tighthead scrum, getting payback after the visitors took one off them earlier.
Buller were still dropping the ball too much, however they got a couple of tap penalties to get on attack, with standout lock and NZ Heartland XV player Jeff Lepa making the carry, while veteran halfback Andrew Stephens worked with Lash to catch Wanganui out on the short side for winger Alex Paterson to score right on halftime.
It was the third match in a row for Wanganui to concede points on the siren.
Buller flanker Gabba De Kock nearly set up another try in the corner but missed Paterson going inside, yet Buller stayed on attack for the other winger Petaia Saukuru to score after the ball went through the hands, with Lash converting from touch for 14-12.
Wanganui halfback Lindsay Horrocks had renewed his fiery rivalry with Lash during the first half, and as Wanganui looked to get up and pressure the home team's play-makers, they seized their chance at scrum time.
The ball coming out of the twisting scrum saw Horrocks dash up and swipe it away from Stephens, then feed it up to motoring prop Raymond Salu, who shocked Buller with his turn of pace to run 30m under the posts, with Whale converting.
The momentum was all with Wanganui as the forwards attacked in Buller's half for phase after phase, but then their two achilles heels in 2019 came back to haunt them.
Penalised for holding the ball and then not getting back on onside as Lash took a quick tap, Wanganui let the nuggety first-five slip through them as he charged into their 22m area before slipping over.
Buller still quickly recycled, with Lash getting back up in the line, and the ball was transferred for Ravudra to score on the other side of the posts for 21-19, while Wanganui also lost a limping Salu with subbed prop Gabriel Hakaraia coming back.
Receiving the kickoff, Wanganui had a rush of blood and tried to spread wide to winger Tyler Rogers-Holden, who had to go back and collect a loose pass and then got trapped by tacklers, with Lash placing the ball 8m from touch and coolly putting it between the sticks.
Wanganui still had time and chances to save the game, as fullback Shai Wiperi had a strong run back from a Buller clearance, but the ball was taken off him at the break down, and while the visitors regather possession, reserve prop Kamipeli Latu couldn't hold onto it for a short carry.
Wiperi then fumbled another Buller clearance, but Buller were penalised at the scrum for Whale to kick Wanganui back onto attack, only for the reserve first-five to get caught on the attack from the lineout, with Horrocks kicking the air after the turnover.
Rogers-Holden ran back Lash's next clearance, and this time when Whale spread on the attack Buller were penalised for not rolling away, but the difficult kick missed.
Buller prop Jack Best was penalised for a high tackle at the 22m drop out, again putting Wanganui on attack with forward carries while Horrocks also went for a dart.
But Stephens got the turnover and then pushed Wanganui into touch from the clearing kick, keeping the ball in the ruck from the lineout until a penalty on fulltime let them kick it dead.
Buller 22 (A Paterson, P Saukuru, I Ravudra tries; J Lash pen, 2 con) bt Wanganui 21 (V Tikoisolomone 2, R Salu tries; C Clare 2 con, D Whale con). HT: 14-5 Wanganui.