North Harbour 44 Northland 28

Not since the heady days of Allan Pollock and Rua Tipoki in 2006 have North Harbour contested playoffs footy.

That season - the first of the expanded competition which was named the Air New Zealand Cup - Harbour won the Ranfurly Shield for the first, and only, time and contested the quarter-finals.

Now they are back, placing third in the Championship section, and will face Wellington next weekend in the semis. This victory was Harbour's first in Whangarei since 2010 and was achieved in some style, despite a late flourish from the committed Taniwha.

They scored six tries to four, though the Taniwha claimed the second spell. But Harbour had the early running, operating off a strong scrum base, and with Tevita Li a menacing presence on the left wing, scoring a try and aggressive on the tackle. In the pack, there was some characteristically effective driving play and work-rate from the likes of No 7 Connor Collett, who was rewarded with a try, and hooker Adrian Smith.


Harbour was thus able to use the ball wide and wing Matt Duffie was the chief beneficiary, with a double. Second five Michael Little bolted 55m for a try from a turnover and the game was gone, 32-7 at oranges.

Prop Karl Tu'inukuafe's try, Harbour's last five-pointer, was the 82nd by a front-rower in the 2016 Mitre 10 Cup, an astonishing stat.

The Taniwha scored the first and last two tries of the match and were full noise in the collisions, but they were heavily penalised by referee Nick Briant in the first half. They made progress in 2016, but still propped up the Championship table with the solitary victory against the Mooloos.

Lions coach Warren Gatland, who was checking out the scene for the June 3 tour opener against the NZ Barbarians in Whangarei, was on hand to watch son Bryn kick 12 points for Harbour before earning an early rest.

North Harbour 44 (Matt Duffie 2, Tevita Li, Michael Little, Connor Collett, Karl Tu'inukuafe tries; Bryn Gatland 3 con, 2 pen, Matt McGahan con)
Northland 28 (Epineri Uluiviti, Ross Wright, Solomon Alaimalo, Waisea Lawebuka tries; Peter Breen 4 con)
HT: 32-7