North Harbour 21 Canterbury 17

North Harbour have, at last, got their hands on the Ranfurly Shield after spending 80 minutes struggling to get them on the ball in Christchurch.

Right wing Vili Waqaseduadua was the North Harbour hero, opening his side's account in the first minute with a scorching 70m intercept try after piecing together Cameron McIntyre's long cut-out pass before McIntyre's teammates had.

Waqaseduadua then finished Canterbury off with a fabulous 67th minute try, the only score of the second half.

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Shield challenges don't have to be of the highest quality to produce high drama. There weren't stacks of great moments to remember here. Yet the tension at Jade Stadium just kept gnawing away.

A couple of decades after creeping into life, Harbour wrestled the shield away from Canterbury by ignoring, or being unable to enact, the sensible theories on mounting a challenge, especially that attack is the best way to beat a defence.

Thankfully for them, Canterbury kept clicking around the gears without ever finding top. North Harbour now have the shield for the summer.

Enormous courage, a rushing defence and grabbing just about every break were at the heart of North Harbour's victory, which has primed them for an advantageous top-two finish in the Air New Zealand Cup although they travel to face Waikato in the final round.

As captain Rua Tipoki lifted the shield at Jade Stadium, the Canterbury supporters must have lifted their eyes to the heavens and wondered how the red and blacks had been unable to file the game away as another useful challenge repelled.

Canterbury can be ruthless, although their provincial side does not always measure up to the high marks set by the Crusaders and certainly hasn't this season.

Yesterday they were toothless. Waves of Canterbury attacks rolled towards North Harbour as if gravity was pulling them back out to sea.

When Casey Laulala was given an overlap chance in the final minutes he spilled the ball the way legions of Harbour players have botched opportunities over the years.

In the closing minutes, with the shield already glinting in their eye, North Harbour closed the game down like a belligerent wrestler, the way Canterbury have done to so many teams.

Until yesterday, the most famous possession on a North Harbour shelf was Jonah Lomu and the build-up to the match was hardly ringing with Harbour optimism, even though Canterbury were minus a clutch of All Blacks including the Incomparables - Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.

Yet after staying in the hunt via two long-range intercept tries to Waqaseduadua and Tipoki, they struck with their one decent attack of the second half.

This historic moment came in the 67th minute, with Canterbury leading 17-14.

North Harbour put on a right-running set play involving a Luke McAlister double-around, and fullback George Pisi then gave Waqaseduadua the overlap.

The Suva-born wing, a former New Zealand sevens player, skirted away from a poor covering tackle by Caleb Ralph and then wrong-footed Scott Hamilton, with McAlister landing the all-important conversion from wide out.

If one player summed up the bizarre nature of the Harbour win, it was McAlister.

Anyone touting him as the All Blacks' backup to Carter would have cringed and looked the other way during this match. McAlister sent potty tactical kicks in all directions, missed touch with a penalty, had a short-arm penalty near his own goal line challenged, and a suicide mission in his own quarter was only rescued through a McIntyre penalty miss.

Yet McAlister goaled three out of three, and helped set up the winning try. History may have a greater recall of his pluses, although the All Black selectors should not.

North Harbour started the match in a manner which, as it turned out, they meant to go on with.

Canterbury's sideways shuffle was hammered by Waqaseduadua. Late in the half, as Canterbury laboured in front of the Harbour goalposts, Tipoki latched on to a pass from the ground by Ralph and galloped away.

Canterbury's best surge of the spell brought them a try to Hamilton, and they also scored through McIntyre for a three point halftime advantage.

At the death, it was natural to assume the defenders would conjure up an escape. Yet it was Harbour who booted the ball into touch at the final hooter.