The top of the NPC second division is starting to present the likely top four for the playoffs with two rounds of matches remaining.
Unbeaten Bay of Plenty stretched their lead by a point at the top after beating Manawatu 26-13, and Hawkes Bay jumped into second place following their 31-20 win over King Country, who had been in the No 2 spot.
Nelson Bays regained their winning form after two losses, hammering Thames Valley 44-3 to climb into fifth place.
Bay of Plenty lead with 27 points, followed by Hawkes Bay on 24, King Country 20, Marlborough 19 and Nelson Bays 18.
Nelson meet neighbours Marlborough on Saturday in Nelson in a crucial match. The losers could miss out on the semifinals.
Bay of Plenty, coached by the reappointed national sevens coach Gordon Tietjens, had a patchy game despite their comfortable win. They blew at least half a dozen excellent scoring opportunities, although they secured maximum points from the match.
They looked unstoppable at times when they moved the ball. However, the final passes seemed to let them down as they butchered try after try in similar fashion.
Two early Tupe Fanoloa penalties gave Manawatu a deserved 6-0 lead, but when Bay of Plenty hit their straps that advantage soon disintegrated.
Fullback Toa Samania opened the home side's scoring with a try, and winger Keith Pryor added a second before halftime as Bay of Plenty earned a 14-6 lead by the interval.
Captain Clayton McMillan and Tongan international Sam Hala scored tries in the second spell to earn their side a bonus point.
Hawkes Bay loose forwards Mutu Ngarimu and Tafai Ioasa were the influential men behind their team's win. They secured turn-over possession regularly and helped the side to score a vital away victory with five tries, which earned them a bonus point as well.
Wanganui scored a try in extra time by winger David Kereti to sneak home 22-19 against bottom-placed Mid-Canterbury.
Fine goalkicking by Christchurch import first five-eighths Glenn Coughlan gave Mid-Canterbury a 16-10 lead early in the second half and a 19-15 advantage with two minutes remaining.
Nelson Bays indicated they are fast approaching their good form of last season when they swept aside Thames Valley. By halftime they had built up a comfortable 18-0 lead.
The last 20 minutes belonged to Nelson Bays as they ran in three converted tries to finish in style. Warren Johnston converted the tries scored by Butch Little, Steve Dunn and Mark Milne.
Saturday: Thames Valley v Hawkes Bay, Manawatu v Wanganui, Nelson Bays v Marlborough, Mid-Canterbury v Bay of Plenty, King Country a bye.