While Super Rugby Transtasman has been a polarising competition, for the Blues it was the opportunity they needed.
While they made a fast start to Super Rugby Aotearoa with back-to-back wins in their opening two matches, they only won two of their final six fixtures and missed the final. Super Rugby Transtasman was different, as they dominated their Australian opposition in each of the five rounds to finish the season atop the table and poised for their first title in almost two decades.
In front of 35,000 at Eden Park, that drought ended in a 23-15 win over the Highlanders in Auckland on Saturday night, and when Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu hoisted the Super Rugby Transtasman trophy toward the heavens, with it went the weight of expectation.
"It's just a weight off your shoulders," Blues loose forward Dalton Papalii said.
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"This whole year, we took a tough start in Super Rugby Aotearoa and we said we had a second chance at a bit of silverware, and to come away with a win like that, it just goes to show when we had to dig deep, we trusted the boys, trusted the process and we came out on top.
"This game was for the city. I'm just so glad we came out here and produced and got one back for Auckland. This one's for the 09."
The Blues got out to a strong start in the match with winger Mark Telea going over in the corner inside the opening 20 minutes. It was one of just two tries in the match, as the Highlanders – who had only kicked one penalty goal all transtasman season – opted to take the three at every opportunity.
The second try of the game came late, with reserve loose forward Blake Gibson dotting down in the 77th minute.
An unlikely hero emerged for the Blues in the final 10 minutes, as it was the boot of Harry Plummer that tightened the screws on the Highlanders and ultimately saw the hosts home with a penalty and a conversion in the dying stages.
Papalii detailed his side's appreciation of the versatile back.
"He's going to be sculling a few beers in [the sheds] after."