Steelform Wanganui has saved their immediate future, and now have the chance to rectify their recent past.
Chasing history to become the first team to win the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship's Meads Cup after dropping their opening three games – sitting on a five match winning streak – it is only appropriate, if daunting, that the path runs through Paeroa Domain against 2018's defending champions Thames Valley on Saturday.
Twelve months ago in Whanganui, an unbeaten home side was not expecting too much out of the first-time semifinalists when they arrived at Cooks Gardens for the 1st vs 4th playoff.
But a mistake-riddled first half played right into the hands of a fearless Waikato country side, who clung onto possession and then tackled themselves to a standstill to cause a 17-7 boilover, then repeated the dose a week later in Timaru against a likewise stunned South Canterbury, 17-12.
Wanganui had wanted revenge when Thames Valley returned to Cooks Gardens on August 31 this season.
But in a disjointed second round of Heartland, with both sides missing a handful of NZ Heartland XV reps, Wanganui's over-eagerness in the face of focused control at the breakdown saw the visitors kick a record-tieing seven penalties to get out of town with another boilover, 36-30.
You could even go back to 2017 at Paeroa when Wanganui, on their way to a third straight Meads Cup, faced a Thames Valley team who hadn't won a single game the season before, yet the visitors barely survived 21-19 after the home team missed a penalty right on fulltime.
For whatever reasons over these past three years, Wanganui has not been able to play to their best against the farmers from L&P country, and have paid a high price.
"It's one of those things – they're a quality team, put you under pressure," said coach Jason Caskey.
"That semifinal last year, undoubtedly, we didn't play well and made a lot of mistakes.
"But you've got to give credit where it's due. Thames Valley, they had no pressure on them and yeah, they snuck in and did it to us.
"A team that's eight [wins] from eight, you would expect some complacency. You think you might be a bit better than you actually are.
"This year, to last year, is a totally different case.
"We've been backs against the wall for five weeks. This week's going to be no different.
"We know we can play a hell of a lot better, put it that way."
The 2017 campaign was the first for Thames Valley's coach Matthew Bartleet, and although he would not lift them into the Lochore Cup playoffs that year, the TVRU officials recognised he was on to something and retained him, which was handsomely repaid last season.
Under Bartleet, Thames Valley have become an excellent team when it comes to the percentages – never the most dynamic attackers, but supreme when it comes to good recycling and ball control, with forwards who impose themselves in the cleanout and put their weight on you.
"That's what a good team's about, as well as a good coach," said Caskey.
"You shrink [your plays] and play your game around that.
"You work with the cattle you've got, and their skill set.
"We're more the other side of that, an attacking style, and that can bite you in the butt."
There are around a dozen survivors in the Wanganui team from last year's playoff, although it is a very settled side as Caskey has not made a single change from the 22 who defeated Horowhenua-Kapiti in Levin, save for Wireumu Cottrell being bracketed with try-scorer Raymond Salu on the bench.
The big call was the No 7 jersey, and that will remain with Angus Middleton ahead of Jamie Hughes, with Middleton not playing the previous match with the Swampfoxes in August.
"You can't take away too much from a teams that have been successful for the last two games," said Caskey.
"Angus came in and replaced Jamie late in the piece, but he took his chance - he was player of the day.
"He put his hand up. It was tough, because Jamie did nothing wrong. It might be horses for courses with Thames Valley.
"[The team is] getting to know the systems and get better, knowing their roles."
Though they back their forward pack, it would be unwise to discount the attacking potency of the Thames Valley backline, with winger-centre Harry Lafituanai sitting tied for second on the Heartland tryscorers table with seven, behind Wanganui's Vereniki Tikoisolomone with 10.
While it was Regan Crosland who kicked the seven penalties to beat Wanganui in August, it is the reliable Reece Broughton who takes the tee regularly for the home team and is third on the Heartland points table with 71, behind Buller's James Lash (82) and North Otago's Robbie Smith (87).
The champions had a similar uneven opening half of the round robin to Wanganui, with one-point defeats to both Poverty Bay in their opening match and then North Otago in the last minute down in Oamaru.
However, like Wanganui, Thames Valley then pulled it out with four straight wins in the second round, including clutch victories over Wairarapa Bush and South Canterbury, to finish top of the table for the first time in 14 seasons of Heartland.
Due to such a large contingent taking the chartered plane north tomorrow, Caskey and four other Wanganui members will be on the 10am Air Chathams flight, followed by the rest of the contingent at 1.30pm.
Kickoff on Saturday in Paeroa is at the earlier time of 2pm.
In the other Meads Cup semifinal, North Otago will host Wairarapa Bush down in Oamaru.
The Lochore Cup playoffs will both be on the South Island's West Coast, as Poverty Bay travel to Greymouth to meet the home side, while Buller prepare for the arrival of South Canterbury in Westport.
The Wanganui team is
1. Kamipeli Latu; 2. Roman Tutauha; 3. Gabriel Hakaraia; 4. Sam Madams; 5. Josh Lane; 6. Campbell Hart (c); 7. Angus Middleton; 8. Ezra Meleisa; 9. Lindsay Horrocks; 10. Dane Whale; 11. Shai Wiperi; 12. Penijamini Nabainivalu; 13. Amos Pogia; 14. Vereniki Tikoisolomone; 15. Nick Harding.
Reserves – Forwards: 16. Dylan Gallien; 17. Raymond Salu/Wiremu Cottrell; 18. Samu Kubunavanua; 19. Jamie Hughes. Backs: 20. Tyler Rogers-Holden; 21. Ethan Robinson; 22. Troy Brown.