The Ngongotahā Chiefs lost 30-26 to the Taupō Phoenix on Saturday but the defending Bay of Plenty Rugby league champions are not hitting the panic button just yet.
Despite trailing for much of the game, Ngongotahā very nearly stole the win when they scored a converted try in the last five minutes and took a 26-24 lead. But it was not to be as Taupō hit back to score right on fulltime to complete an impressive round one victory.
Ngongotahā assistant coach Henare Tahuri says, although his side walked away with the loss, it was a good early season hit out.
"We did really well, obviously being the defending champs from last year, everyone wants to prove a point against us. They're definitely stepping up and I think Taupō Phoenix are definitely the team to look out for this year - big ups to them for the win."
He says there was not much separating the teams and considering Ngongotahā have 10 new faces this season he expects them to improve with every game.
"Probably just the forward packs were the main difference, Taupō Phoenix's go-forward was really good, especially in the centre field. We've got a lot of work in front of us but I'm still really proud of the boys at the moment.
"There are no excuses and at the end of the day the better team won, but I'm very proud. Our forward pack is new and they did step up - it's early days."
The win on Saturday was the second big statement Taupō have made this season after making the final of the Bay of Plenty Nines last weekend.
Taupō Phoenix chairwoman Tui Love was thrilled with the start to the season.
"Overall the game was really good - the first hit out of the year and it was a good strong hit-up. We knew it would be tough with Ngongotahā being the winners from last year and Phoenix are in a rebuilding phase at the moment.
"We've got some new players plus some of the old ones and a bunch of talented under-17s that have stepped up to the mark playing seniors."
Love says beating the defending champions will give the team a good confidence boost.
"We've got two weeks before our next game with the bye and then Easter, then we play Pikiao at home. We're looking forward to that one."
Bay of Plenty Rugby League Results
Pacific 48 Pikiao 16, Ngongotahā 26 Taupō 30, Mangakino bye.
Pacific 32 Pikiao 22, Central 32 Taupō 20, Putauaki bye.