The Black Bull Liquor Pirates vs Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau rivalry for 2018 has become like the Joker vs Batman – the unstoppable force and the immovable object, destined to do this forever.
The Tasman Tanning Premier record books will need a keen study as the cross town opponents played out an unprecedented second drawn game for the season on Saturday – 18-18 at the Country Club to follow up their 19-19 stalemate in March.
As in March at Spriggens Park, Kaierau scored the final three points to tie the score, but unlike that encounter there was still enough time left for both sides to steal the match, with opposing fullbacks Shandon Scott and Junior Ainea both missing long range penalties from nearly in-front, while Kaierau had one last backline spread right towards Pirate's corner flag, but were penalised at the ruck.
Pirates were playing the last nine minutes with 14 men after influential skipper Lasa Ulukuta was sinbinned following both team's pulling jerseys in a heated exchange with Kaierau hot on attack.
In a match of swinging momentum, Kaierau were running hot early on with plenty of good communication, smart kicking, and capitalising on Pirates uncharacteristic lethargy.
Kaierau swept to the corners for two well taken tries, with Scott the general at the back dictating terms, to lead 15-3.
But taking on a physical Pirates pack is like playing in a furnace and the Kaierau forwards were notably worn down late in the first half as the visitors began to find their rhythm – led by lock Emile Fanene, who showed his league experience with some powerful hitups, swivelling the hips to bump away from tacklers.
Kaierau were barely hanging on and couldn't get the same punch through the midfield, although they were still the better tactical kickers and solid in the set-piece, with lock Josh Lane showing how important his return has been.
Pirates put the ball through the hands to finally score their second try and hit the front 18-15 with 20 minutes left, but they had likewise expended a lot of energy to pull themselves back into the match, while also taking punishment as halfback Fa'alele Iosua limped off in the first half, while barnstorming prop Raymond Salu had again been dominant until an ankle injury slowed him down.
Pirates young winger Desmond Tyrell had been caught out a couple of times on the wing, but did well when shifted into first-five, while Pirates other standouts included flanker George Forster getting through a solid shift while setting up clever lineout plays with Salu, and fullback Ainea was cool under pressure, although he finished the game flat on his back with a shoulder injury.
The dynamic Scott literally carried his Kaierau team forward, while first-five Viliamu Alauni also kicked well, and veteran second-five Ace Malo stood up in the white-hot final minutes, with reserves Apopo Leota and Penani Vui giving their team a second wind on offence.
At fulltime, neither Kaierau coach Denis Edwards or his opposite Phillip Morris were satisfied, knowing the two points shared does not help their playoff chances.
Still, only a season ago if Edwards had been told he'd defeat McCarthy's Transport Ruapehu one weekend and draw with Pirates the next, he'd have gladly taken it.
"We're showing heart," said Edwards.
"Frustrating. Different areas we could have won the game, but they came back well.
"It was hard to come back [from Ruapehu], but I thought we did in the first half.
"But Pirates came back, they always will.
"It was key to get up early again...we were holding on."
After their first loss the previous week to Waverley Harvesting Border, Morris had wanted more of a lift from Pirates from the get-go.
"It was a poor start, and we had prepared well," he said.
"Both teams defended well, we started to play a bit of footy in the second half but then it was too late, because if you give the other team a sniff...."
"Good individual stuff, but not gelling as a team. Hopefully that comes later on."
Pirates seemed like they'd get straight into their work as a burst by midfielders Patrick Hiscox and Vaovasa Afa only just came unstuck with a loose pass, but a penalty soon followed and Iosua duly added the three points after only two minutes.
But the halfback dropped the kickoff and Kaierau worked an excellent spread from the scrum, using winger James Dorgan as an extra man, and then Scott stepped out of a tackle and pumped his way through the last defender to score, before adding the extras right from the touchline.
Pirates were untidy at the back in retrieving another probing Kaierau kick and after a shallow clearance they were penalised at the ruck, with Scott extending the home team's lead.
Kaierau were running hot as not long afterwards as a long Alauni kick was followed up by flanker Cade Robinson charging down Pirates' attempted clearance, which led to another ruck penalty.
From the lineout, Kaierau spread again and Malo regathered a loose ball to feed Scott, whose bullet pass to Dorgan caught out Tyrell and the Kaierau winger took a clean run into the corner for 15-3.
Finally waking up, Pirates responded and began to get some traction, just missing out on a try when they lost it trying to burrow over from the fringes of the ruck, while Salu tore through the midfield and seemed certain to score until Scott dragged him down by the shoulders.
Pirates still got a penalty and from the scrum first-five Ricky Boniface linked with Ainea, whose wild pass out the back found winger Elijah Ah Chong to crash over at the corner flag.
Kaierau were relieved to get into halftime up 15-8, but Fanene tore them to shreds right from the kickoff, and Pirates got the penalty 30m in front of the posts for Ainea to slot the three after less than two minutes.
Pirates kept making forward yards on their hitups while Kaierau skipper Tau Fa'alili and hooker Joe Edwards were absorbing a lot of tough blows when they took on the line, forcing their team to try more chip and chase tactics.
Despite Salu being down hurt, Pirates controlled possession for multiple phases in Kaierau's dangerzone, before the forwards offloaded the ball between them and Forster saved a bounce pass to feed Hiscox, who stepped out of a tackle and put his team ahead 18-15.
Kaierau's pack turned back another raid on their line, and after struggling to mount effective offence, a Leota chip kick and re-gather from out of nowhere suddenly had them in Pirates back-field.
A string of penalties against Pirates had tempers boiling, and after the teams had to be separated in front of the posts, Ulukuta got the yellow card and Scott duly locked the game up, while the Pirates captain had plenty to say towards the Kaierau sideline before continuing his journey behind the posts.
There followed a nerve wracking final few minutes, with Scott just away on a 35m penalty attempt while Ainea didn't get close on his 45m shot, although Kaierau's poor clearance gave the visitors an attacking run from halfway.
Pirates attempts at offloading in the tackle were snatched away by Fa'alili, with Kaierau having one last chance as Malo linked with Leota and Vui, but they were brought down just short and infringed when trying to recycle the ball back.
Kaierau 18 (Shandon Scott, James Dorgan tries; Scott 2 pen, con) drew with Pirates 18 (Elijah Ah Chong, Patrick Hiscox tries; Junior Ainea pen, con, Fa'alele Iosua pen). HT: 15-8 Kaierau.