A strong first half performance has helped the Yarrows Taranaki Bulls claim a 34-29 win in the opening round of the Mitre 10 Cup against Counties Manukau in Pukekohe on Saturday.
Taranaki scored four first half tries and gained an early bonus point in a match that featured plenty of running rugby and nine tries.
However, it wasn't plain sailing for the visitors after suffering an early set-back before kick-off.
Hooker Ricky Riccitelli was ruled out in the warm-up bringing in Scott Mellow at hooker and Taranaki Academy hooker Millennium Sanerivi to the bench.
Counties Manukau started strongly with Kirisi Kuridrani scoring after an enterprising period of play by the backline, that featured All Black Sonny Bill Williams.
The conversion was unsuccessful, but it gave the home side the early lead.
Taranaki bounced back thanks to a Sean Wainui try, but it was the work by the forwards who managed to show patience close to the line.
Etene Nanai-Seturo scored for Counties Manukau soon after for a 12-7 advantage after it was converted by Reliey Hohepa.
But Taranaki stole the limelight for remainder of the first half as winger Waisake Naholo scored a brilliant try.
While the 26 cap All Black dotted down, it was the work by fullback Jayson Potroz who drew in two defenders and allowed Sean Wainui into space before offloading to Naholo. First five-eighth Daniel Waite failed to convert but had a strong kicking game throughout the match.
Taranaki kept applying the pressure on Counties Manukau, eventually being rewarded with a penalty try as Counties Manukau flanker Sam Slade collapsed a maul close to the line. After referee Angus Mabey awarded the automatic seven pointer, he showed Slade a yellow card.
Down to 14 men, Counties Manukau prop Canon O'Donnell scored after a driving maul which came from a Taranaki error at the preceding lineout. Hohepa was able to convert from wide out and narrowly trailed 22-19.
Taranaki flanker Lachlan Boshier secured a healthy halftime lead after diving on a loose ball and scored. Waite converted to secure a 10-point lead.
The second half wasn't as fulfilling as the first due to both sides defending well, denying opportunities.
With 15 minutes remaining Taranaki winger Jackson Ormond dotted down from a debonair set piece move as Waite ran straight freeing up space for Ormond.
Counties Manukau were the last to score with a penalty to Hohepa and try to replacement loose forward Dan Hyatt.
Taranaki's set piece looked dicey at times throughout the match and will want to improve in that area before Manawatu away next weekend.
At a glance:
Taranaki Bulls: 34 (S. Wainui, W. Naholo, L. Boshier, J. Ormond, Penalty Try tries; D Waite 2 con, pen)
Counties Manukau: 29 (C. Kuridrani, E Nanai-Seturo, D. Hyatt, C. O'Donnell tries; R. Hohepa 2 con, pen, A Kellaway con)
Half time: Taranaki 29-19