North Harbour 33 Hawke's Bay 30
North Harbour are set to be in the mix for the Mitre 10 Cup playoffs, but their chances of raising the trophy depend on them being more convincing.
A last-gasp 33-30 victory over Hawke's Bay has Harbour positioned 13 points ahead of the fifth-placed Waikato with three games to go, meaning they can have a semifinal spot locked up by the end of the weekend.
With that initial goal nearly sealed, Harbour's gaze will soon drift to playoff positioning, and the next two weeks will be pivotal.
Tonight was the start of three games in nine days for Harbour, who have to visit Tasman and Waikato next week, before completing a testing trio of Premiership opposition when they host leaders Taranaki in their final regular season clash.
First, however, they will need to put in better performances than their scratchy effort against Hawke's Bay.
Clad in yellow to support the Tania Dalton Foundation, Harbour initially looked the goods, with Shaun Stevenson denied by a try-saving tackle during Harbour's first attack, before
being held up two minutes later.
The early running displayed ominous signs, but despite Harbour's potency, Hawke's Bay proved surprisingly worthy adversaries.
In a six-match losing streak, Hawke's Bay had conceded 40 points or more on five occasions, and had lost every game by double digits.
As a result, there was little to suggest they'd give Harbour a contest, but by playing at pace and showing commitment in the tackle, they overcame some scrummaging issues.
Harbour had equal doses of bad luck and poor execution as the Magpies held steady, before the underdogs hit the front before halftime.
Hawke's Bay were rejuvenated, with a further counter-attacking try seeing them take a seven-point lead, and Harbour's quest became complicated when they were reduced to 14 men with 20 minutes remaining.
However, a stunning 45 metre solo try from Matt Duffie drew the hosts level, and as time ticked away, the game was decided by discipline.
Both sides traded penalties, but with 90 seconds to go, Hawke's Bay were caught with hands in the ruck in front of their posts. Bryn Gatland stepped up and slotted the penalty to secure the win, and save Harbour's blushes.
North Harbour 33 (Penalty try, Shaun Stevenson, Matt Duffie tries; Bryn Gatland 2 cons, 4 pens).
Hawke's Bay 30 (Ash Dixon, Cardiff Vaega, Jason Long tries; Ihaia West 3 cons, 3 pens).