Trying to grind out the last half an hour with no substitutes saw a gutted Manawatu Mustangs team run down in the dying minutes to lose 24-22 to the Northland Sharks in Palmerston North on Saturday.
After putting up a strong effort in their 36-22 loss in the opening NZRL North Island Championship match with the Wellington Orcas the previous week, the Mustangs were hoping to get the win against their long-travelling neighbours, who drove ten hours by van on Friday.
The Manawatu representative team, including their contingent of Whanganui Boxon players, did not have any club league this season due to neither the Manawatu or Taranaki Rugby League's being able to provide a full senior men's competition.
The home side led 22-4 at Fitzherbert Park as their player-coach Haze Reweti scored the first try, followed by winger Leonard Matapuku, standoff Jahlon Governor and the other winger Kayin Katene.
Governor added three conversions from his four attempts.
But then the side lost Reweti to injury while Matapuku also hurt his shoulder, and when another player went down, the Mustangs bench was empty.
"[Northland] fought their way back," said Reweti.
"They had a pretty good squad too, a couple of nifty wingers.
"The guys had to play a gutsy last 30 minutes with no subs.
"They scored their last try right at the end."
Northland rotated their interchange well to keep fresh legs on the paddock and ran through to get repeated tries, including a converted try at the finish.
The Mustangs will now take a bye weekend, and other than Matapuku, most of the other niggling injuries should be alright by the time the side travels to play the Taranaki Sharks in New Plymouth on September 14.
The Sharks were in a similar predicament to the Mustangs, as without a club league season, most of their players stayed fit by going to their local rugby union clubs.
"I think it's going to be a tough game, it's hard when we play Taranaki," said Reweti.
"They always turn it on, especially up there."
Last season, the Mustangs defeated the Sharks 30-26 in Oakura, after the players from both teams had been involved in the same TRL club competition earlier in the year.