The Bay of Plenty Steamers have slumped to a fourth loss in a row and relinquished the Chiefs Country Cup, going down 54-21 to Waikato in Rotorua tonight.
With experienced campaigners Mike Delany, Chase Tiatia and Tanerau Latimer out injured, the Steamers had their work cut out for them against Championship leaders and Ranfurly Shield holders Waikato.
If the sound of cow bells in the grandstand was anything to go by, the away side brought plenty of support over with them too.
Waikato were as clinical with the ball as the Steamers were careless and in the end they were given all the possession they needed to be dominant.
The opening minutes were a bit of an arm wrestle, but the steamers invited pressure from their opposition with some ill discipline.
With possession inside the Steamers 22m, Waikato made it count when lock James Tucker did his best impression of a steamroller to barge over and score. First five Fletcher Smith converted the try and Waikato led 7-0.
The Steamers' fight back was patient, but having worked their way within 5m of the try line lock Tyler Ardron was pinged for holding onto the ball.
It was not long before Waikato were back at the other end of the field and on the attack.
The away side extended their lead, this time through hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho who also bulldozed his way over from close range. Smith converted and Waikato led 14-0.
Thirty minutes into the half Waikato extended their lead to 21-0 with a bit of razzle dazzle from the big men up the middle.
Tucker burst through a gap 40m out, drew the last defender and put flanker Mitch Jacobson in for a try next to the posts.
With five minutes left in the half, the Steamers finally came to life.
Camped in the Waikato 22m they threw everything at the try line, with a raucous crowd willing them over.
Eventually flanker Hugh Blake broke through to score under the posts. First five Jason Robertson converted to reduce the deficit to 21-7 at halftime.
The second half could not have started much worse for the Steamers.
Having taken the kickoff cleanly, Robertson looked to clear from inside his 22m but the kick was charged. Waikato centre Quinn Tupaea reacted fastest and dived on the ball to score. The try was converted and Waikato led 28-0.
To make matters worse for the home side, eight minutes into the half Baden Wardlaw, who had come on at lock at halftime, was the unlucky man sin binned for the Steamers continual infringements.
Waikato quickly made the numerical advantage count, kicking for touch and setting a maul from the resulting lineout.
They steamrolled the weakened Bay of Plenty forward pack and Taukei'aho had his second try. The sharp shooter Smith converted to keep up his perfect record and Waikato led 35-7.
The away side continued to turn the screw and with 20 minutes left to play they led 42-7 thanks to Tupaea's second try.
He strolled over on the left-hand side with a big overlap after another break up the middle by Tucker.
With 17 minutes left to play Bay of Plenty reduced the deficit slightly. Winger Bailey Simonsson ran onto a nice offload inside the Waikato 22m to stroll over the try line untouched.
With Robertson off the field, 19-year-old Kaleb Trask stepped up and nailed the conversion to make it 42-14.
However, Waikato were not finished and minutes later they crossed for their seventh try of the match.
They won a penalty inside the 22m, kicked for touch and from the resulting lineout Sekope Lopeti-Moli dived over to score. This time Smith could not convert from the left-hand sideline and Waikato led 47-14.
The men in red, yellow and black cracked the half century with seven minutes left thanks to a breakaway try to fullback Matthew Lansdown, the conversion making it 54-14.
Steamers lock Kane Leaupepe scored a converted try on fulltime to make it 54-21, but it was no more than a consolation.
After the game Trask, a former Rotorua Boys' High School student, said while it was far from the result the team wanted, it was special to run out in front of his friends and family.
"It was a great feeling to run out here, obviously it was not the result we wanted, but that's rugby I suppose.
"I think they just wanted it more. We went out there and we didn't execute our skills, we just weren't good enough."
Trask went into the game on the back of leading the Bay of Plenty under-19s to glory in the Jock Hobbs Memorial tournament, an experience he said had helped him develop as a leader.
"It's good to come back here and be able to talk to the boys more, especially playing at fullback," he said.
The Steamers next game is against Manawatu, back in Rotorua on Thursday.