On the face of it, Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist did everything they needed up in the Waitotara Valley with a bonus point win over Settler's Honey Ngamatapouri on Saturday.
But that does not tell the story of a wet and rugged game in the countryside, where Marist flirted with disaster in a real banana skin of a match, as the committed but out-numbered home side had a real dog in the fight, leading 17-12 early in the final quarter and then deadlocked 17-all with time up.
Marist got the turnover and scored off the last play of the game through veteran fullback Cameron Crowley, after he got what had been lacking all match – a perfect pass into space – delivered by No8 Cody Whickham, and dashed 45m under the posts.
A draw would have been a truer reflection of the stop-start contest.
As linchpin lock Sam Madams only came on for the last 15 minutes due to his injured wrist, and with a backline still finding their way with youngster Ashton Coates at first-five, Marist dropped two games worth of ball, while allowing their 17-man opposition plenty of time to catch breathers, rather than running out of gas in the last 20 minutes.
Ngamatapouri still played like a team at sixes and sevens, but with neither squad having continuity it's all about which individuals best carry the can, as lock Francis Vakadranu, No8 Bryn Hudson, and flanker Josaia Dawai were dangerous throughout.
The tryline defence was also excellent, if not always legal, as Ngamatapouri gave away a string of penalties but held out for tap kick after tap kick as big Marist lock Taione Ratu kept threatening to steamroll through.
Marist's best on show was hooker Jack Yarrall in perfect weather for frontrowers, as he scored Marist's second try and made some key tackles, specifically in the final moments when Ngamatapouri were trying to give second-five Jim Seruwalu the space to win them the game.
Crowley made several signature busts that kept coming unstuck with a wild pass or the ball slipping from the support's hands, allowing Ngamatapouri to just boot their way back down the field.
The visitors only got their second half equaliser after Ngamatapouri were reduced to 14 men when first-five Te Tua Kemp was the offender following the final team warning from referee Noah Viliamu, getting the yellow card.
Audibly letting out his breath after Crowley's matchwinner, Marist coach Jerome McCrea knew the best thing to do was park this game and move on.
"I'll say we got five points and we played for 80 minutes.
"We've just got to work harder and harder every week.
"We're still fighting, we still believe."
Having lost representative player Samu Kubunavanua for the season with a dislocated shoulder, while their coach Richard Cranston has an upcoming heart operation, Hudson has taken on added responsibilities and knew his team had given everything, with the weather being a helpful leveller.
"I said to them, 'just keep battling away, staying in the fight'.
"We were trying to break the game into four quarters.
"Unfortunately, a turnover at the end cost us."
After a series of last ditch tackles on the likes of Crowley, winger Simon Dibben and centre Josaia Bogileka, Ngamatapouri fullback Sheldon Pakinga took a hard blow to his solar plexus and was helped off with five minutes left, and tryscorer Crowley ran right into the gap he would have been covering.
"Plenty of 'what ifs' but I'm proud of the boys, that was probably our best performance," Hudson said.
The home side's blood was up right from the start as Marist lost possession from the kickoff, and after sustaining their attack and getting a couple of penalties, Ngamatapouri got a 5m scrum after another Marist spill and winger Isi Baleitavuku dived over in the far corner.
Ngamatapouri kicked clear into open spaces, which is dangerous with Crowley at the back, as Ratu followed his kick return to surge to the line.
After getting the scrum, Marist surged to the righthand corner with Whickham and flanker Kane Alabaster having a crack, before Farrell shrugged out of the last tackle to dive over.
It took a while for either team to sustain possession in the dangerzone, but Marist pounced when Dibben slid in to snatch a loose Ngamatapouri pass.
Working forward through Bogileka and Yarrell, Marist spread the ball and although flanker Dale Pene's pass was low, Crowley was the intended receiver and he deftly snatched the wet ball from ankle height and scooted through a tackle to score.
But Marist could not relax as a Kemp chip-and-chase had them back on their tryline, with Ngamatapouri getting the penalty, and although defending winger Luke Foster did well to turn halfback Stu Wright over on his back to prevent a try, it was only fleeting reprieve as Hudson had another crack and then Vakadranu forced his way over for 12-10 at halftime.
Ngamatapouri's sniff became a real chance when Marist tried to spread from their 15m and centre Ben Aiken charged down their kick, winning the race to the line, with Pakinga converting for 17-12.
Ngamatapouri then defended 4-5 penalty tap kicks on their line as Ratu would get within inches of the chalk, but a slippery ball or errant defender's hand would stop Marist scoring off the following phases.
After Kemp's departure, Marist finally changed tactics and tried the penalty kick, but Coates was away on a difficult day for goals, with both teams trying a handful of kickers with few successes.
Having defended grimly, a tired Ngamatapouri were slow to get back for another penalty and sharp-eyed Marist halfback Kayden Shedlock made them pay as he tapped it and slipped through two diving tackles to lock the game up.
Ngamatapouri tried a penalty from 45m out, with Pakinga's kick having the legs but not the accuracy, then after defending their half the home side got another penalty and looked to trap Marist in their 30m, while hoping they could get close enough for a matchwinner.
But Marist's scrambling defence held, and with the turnover, they had a big overlap on the left flank and Whickhams' swift pass over the sole defender hit Crowley perfectly to sprint away and get his team out of jail.
Marist 24 (Cameron Crowley 2, Jack Yarrall, Kayden Shedlock tries; Ashton Coates con, Ricky Alabaster con) bt Ngamatapouri 17 (Isi Baleitavuki, Francis Vakadravu, Ben Aiken tries; Sheldon Pakinga con). HT: 12-10.