North Harbour 20
It's looking like the Mitre 10 Cup title will be staying in the Crusaders catchment once again – but this time, it's Tasman's title to lose.
We're only three games in, granted, so apologies for the hyperbole, but the talent-laden Tasman have made every post a winner so far this season.
Thrice runners-up in the past four seasons, this time it seems that the Mako have the inside running to finally eclipse big brother Canterbury, who have claimed nine of the last 10 title provincial titles.
Of course, Tasman have already claimed a dominant win over their neighbours, which was followed by an expectant beatdown of Southland. They didn't let up tonight either, overcoming North Harbour 32-20 to move to the top of the Premiership ladder.
The jury is still out on how good Harbour are – they were the least convincing 2-0 side of all time, having beaten the winless duo of Northland and Waikato by a solitary point apiece. Still, Harbour are, uh, harbouring big ambitions this season after last year's semifinal appearance, and they have the talent to be in the mix.
Take Matt Duffie for instance. The former Melbourne Storm star showed off all of his NRL abilities to leap high over Will Jordan to claim a cross-kick, before turning and planting the ball down in the corner. It was a phenomenal piece of skill from a team who can produce them, but the problem came in the fact that they were down 22-13 at the time.
Indeed, Harbour have been found lacking defensively this season, and Tasman's free-flowing backline had them grasping at air, missing 29 tackles as Tasman attacked from long range.
After Duffie's try had pegged back Tasman's strong first half performance, the last 30 minutes were all Tasman as they overcame a few nervy moments. A forward pass ruled out one try, before two flowing moves ended abruptly with the last pass going to ground as the tryline begged.
Eventually, they finally finished off one of their promising moves through halfback Finlay Christie, to seal another win in a season which promises many.
Tasman's favouritism also comes about due to Canterbury failing to flatter so far this season. The 14-time champions have moved into the top four of the Premiership after a 31-19 win over Championship side Bay of Plenty, but they required a second half fightback. Down 19-14, Canterbury put on 17 unanswered points to pull away as Bay of Plenty's attack dried up late in the game, with recently re-signed Highlanders flier Josh McKay claiming a valuable double for the Cantabs.
Despite their first loss of the season, Bay of Plenty showed enough to remain considerable favourites for promotion from the Championship, after coming up a game short a year ago. They currently sit in second place on the ladder with eight points through three games, behind only Hawke's Bay, who have benefitted from a generous schedule so far.
Otago sit in third, after also piling on an unanswered barrage of points against Manawatu. Down 17-7, Otago needed a spark, and it came in the form of a mammoth 43 point run – with 31 accumulated in the span of just 19 minutes as they roared away for a 50-17 victory.
Tasman 32 (T Faingaanuku, W Jordan, S Frizell, F Christie tries; M Hunt 3 cons, 2 pens)
North Harbour 20 (G Cowley-Tuioti, M Duffie tries; B Gatland 2 cons, 2 pens)