The final score suggests a fairly routine and comfortable premier men's victory for Ponsonby over Papatoetoe on Saturday, one that keeps their championship goals very much on track, but it doesn't tell the story of a brave effort from a South Auckland club celebrating its 75th jubilee.
Papatoetoe, who conceded a converted try after 12 minutes to Ponsonby flanker Kaleb Emile-Vaoga, almost immediately hit back via right wing Uta Fale; one of the quickest men on the field intercepting a pass and running in from 70 metres for a try converted despite a swirling wind by fullback Bradford Lemalufaitoaga.
It meant Ponsonby had little reward despite a first quarter of dominance. Their scrum had Papatoetoe in some discomfort and their midfield of Wiseguy Faiane and Selesitino Kalounivale were playing a dual role of making life difficult for their opponents on attack and comfortably stopping everything coming their way. They were in control but couldn't make it count.
A brilliant offload by Jordan Trainor and outside break near the right touchline by Cephus Salaivao soon gave the visitors some added comfort but Ponsonby couldn't add to their score in the first half and the sinbinning of lock Aukusitino Ulugia for not retreating from a penalty, added to their difficulties breaking through, appeared to give Papatoetoe confidence in front of their supporters at the Recreation Ground.
It could be seen in the 30m driving maul the home side used to put Ponsonby under immediate pressure, although they probably made the wrong decision to kick for goal soon after when they had momentum and a numerical advantage. Coach Tino Junior Poluleuligaga admitted afterwards it probably wasn't the way to go.
Another try just on halftime would have given Papatoetoe a huge boost but as it was they had to settle for a 12-7 deficit after Lemalufaitoaga's penalty attempt went wide.
Still, they were in the fight, with impressive No8 Laga Fasavalu and influential halfback Jason Guthrie pulling the strings, although tensions increased between both teams in the second half.
First, Papatoetoe lock Kelemete Finau was sinbinned for not retreating 10m from a penalty, then Ponsonby's replacement halfback Sam Wye was shown a yellow card for dissent. Papatoetoe blindside flanker Fatai Finau was the third player to be sinbinned for not retreating from a penalty.
Trainor's two missed penalty attempts added to Ponsonby's sense of frustration but the dam broke 11 minutes from time when Wiseguy Faine went over via another assist from Trainor – it was Faine's third try in two matches – and the game was made safe for the visitors when Trainor kicked a penalty with five minutes remaining.
A brilliant chip and chase on the left touchline by Ponsonby wing Morrison Siliko, converted by Trainor, meant the final score was flattering for Ponsonby, who remain second on the table behind the undefeated College Rifles.
"The boys put up a good fight and made Ponies work for it," Poluleuligaga said at the final whistle.
"It wasn't easy for them. I feel gutted and proud at the same time; gutted because there were moments we should have taken and we would have had we been as clinical as we talked about. But I'm proud because they never gave up. They stayed in the fight right until the 80th minute."
They couldn't finish a day, which began with a huge turnout of junior club members, on a winning note, but their efforts reflected a special one for the club.
"We had a massive turnout this morning for all the juniors and all the old members and life members came along in big groups," Poluleuligaga added. "It was fantastic to see because some don't come very often – they live elsewhere.
"We told the boys to keep their heads up and soak it all in and enjoy the celebrations because they don't come around very often."
For Ponsonby, No8 Presley Tufuga was a standout and fullback Trainor, a Blues squad member, impressed with his pacey, incisive running.
Having turned up without Blues players Stephen Perofeta and Blake Gibson, Ponsonby got exactly what they expected; an extremely tough 80-minute examination by a proud club on the rebound after a couple of tough years.
Ponsonby 27 (Kaleb Emile-Vaoga, Cephus Salaivao, Wiseguy Faiane, Morrison Siliko tries; Jordan Trainor 2 cons, pen)
Papatoetoe 7 (Uta Fale try; Bradford Lemalufaitoaga con)
Other Gallaher Shield results:
Marist 34 Waitemata 8
Manukau Rovers 38 Otahuhu 17
Pakuranga United 24 Grammar Tec 25
Suburbs 74 Waitakere City 3
University 15 College Rifles 22