Test footy might be a step too far for Stephen Donald in 2011, but his influence at this level is undeniable as Waikato gave notice of their title aspirations last night.
The Chiefs-heavy side, supplemented with returning veteran Marty Holah and sevens star Declan O'Donnell, rarely looked troubled in the far south and deserved better than their one-try haul.
Southland rarely threatened, though showed typical grit and gristle in keeping the score close. What they lacked was the spark of quality that Donald gave his side.
The All Black reject was the game's dominant figure, scoring all Waikato's points, picking his moments well to run, pass or kick.
The hosts had no business being in the game at halftime, let alone within spitting distance of the 2010 finalists.
Waikato were completely dominant. They camped in Southland's half, controlled the greasy ball beautifully and played all the rugby.
They were 10-0 up, probably should have been double that, but Southland literally fought and talked their way back into the match.
Twice they appeared to be the instigators of fights that sent men from both sides to the bin, leaving the strange spectacle of union played by league-sized teams. Yellow cards outnumbered tries four to one.
Ben May seemed particularly harshly judged, his only crime appeared to be defending himself against assault from veteran hooker Jason Rutledge.
Earlier, locks Romana Graham and Josh Bekhuis had an unplanned breather after trading a few loose blows.
Southland captain Jamie Mackintosh's constant carping at the referee was starting to have an effect as well and from a position of primacy, Waikato would have been mortified to have walked to the sheds nursing just a four-point lead.
Two early penalties stretched the lead in the second half, before Southland finally started playing.
Using the ball suited them, the desperation needed to claw back 10 points didn't. Every half chance was met with an error, Waikato never had to dig too deep to keep them tryless.
Try: S Donald
Pens: Donald (4)
Penalties: S Eade (3)