The season's first trophy holder was officially confirmed on Saturday as McCarthy's Transport Ruapehu will take home the Paul Mitchell Cup following an undefeated round of Tasman Tanning Premier games.
However, Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau were gutted they let a golden opportunity to lift the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield slip through their fingers after getting rocked in the opening quarter at the Country Club, before coming back in the 31-28 loss.
Up 21-0 in about 18 minutes, with a costly Kaierau lineout mistake leading one of the three tries, Ruapehu were dominant around the set-piece and maintaining pressure.
Struggling to adjust to that continuous grinding tempo, Kaierau managed a penalty to settle them down before halftime, then scored three second half tries and closed the distance further through added goal kicks.
But Ruapehu grabbed two more second half tries out wide to keep clear of Kaierau and run them out of time, with lock Jackson Campbell getting a double, while the 2018 Steelform Wanganui captains Roman Tutauha and Campbell Hart also crossed, as did centre Royce Trow for the second game in a row.
Kaierau's second half tries came from lock Josh Lane, No 8 Joe Edwards and coach Ace Malo playing at fullback.
The team was missing playmaker Ethan Robinson on a pre-planned trip to America, but have made a major pickup as former Black Bull Liquor Pirates prop and wider Wanganui squad member Raymond Salu has returned from Samoa to join the club.
Twelve months before, it was Pirates winning the Paul Mitchell Cup for an undefeated first round of games, but the 2019 edition is only a shell of that side, and were sent on their way down to the new Division 2 with a 71-5 hammering by Waverley Harvesting Border at Spriggens Park.
The match had its moments of spite as Pirates captain Lasa Ulukuta and Border flanker Angus Middleton both received red cards after a solid stoush.
It was less competitive in the actual game play, as Chris Breuer, Nick Harding, Tom Symes, and Vereniki Tikoisolomone all scored two tries for the visitors, with Harding adding eight conversions for a 26-point haul.
Border have had an uneven first round, which included an unwanted weekend off from Harvey Round Motors Ratana's default the previous Saturday, but can be satisfied they worked their way up to third just behind the Northern sub union teams.
After a causal start to their campaign, Byford's Readimix Taihape have placed themselves in the best position to challenge Ruapehu's dominion over what will become Division 1 after grinding out a 26-9 win at Memorial Park over Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist.
Marist were without backline general Peni Nabainivalu, and Taihape scored all three of their tries in the first half through Dane Whale, Paora McCarthy and James Barrett, with the goalkicker Barrett finishing with a 16-point haul.
Barrett would only add one more penalty to the home side's tally in the second half, while Marist's Ricky Alabaster popped over three penalty kicks.
The makeup of the four Senior teams who will be joining Pirates and Settler's Honey Ngamatapouri in the new-look Division 2 will come right down to the final Queens Birthday Weekend of games.
Undefeated Bennett's Taihape have continued what has become a standout season after retaining the Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield with 23-12 win over Marist Celtic at Memorial Park, with Celtic now having major end-of-round speed wobbles after the previous weekend's draw with Counties.
As expected, Counties picked up a bonus point home win over Marist Buffalo's 43-14, pulling away in the second half, which puts them right on the heels of both Celtic and Kelso Hunterville, who will play each other on Saturday with only the winner guaranteed to finish in the Top 4 and move onto Division 2.
Counties have another McNab Domain game against lower table team Black Bull Liquor Pirates, who still gave Hunterville a fright when they led them 14-5 at halftime at Spriggens Park, before the visitors made a customary second half revival to run out 36-21 winners.
Therefore, Counties need the maximum five points against Pirates while waiting to see what the outcome and bonus point situation will be coming out of the game at Hunterville.
Utiku Old Boys are safe for the Top 4 and will go into the derby game with Taihape looking for a chance to claim the Challenge Shield after they held back a game Kaierau 21-7 at Memorial Park.
And it has come too late for Speirs Food Marton to have a chance at Division 2, but they moved back into the win column with a 62-12 hammering of wooden-spooners Border at Marton Park.
Results, May 25.
Tasman Tanning Premier, Week 7
Waverley Harvesting Border 71 (Chris Breuer 2, Nick Harding 2, Tom Symes 2, Vereniki Tikoisolomone 2, Jack Hodges, Hamish Mellow, Neihana Parkes tries; Harding 8 con) bt Black Bull Liquor Pirates 5 (Joseph Leitupo try). HT: 33-5.
Grand Hotel Challenge Shield – McCarthy Transport Ruapehu 31 (Jackson Campbell 2, Roman Tutauha, Campbell Hart, Royce Trow tries; Josh Fifita 3 con) bt Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau 28 (Josh Lane, Joe Edwards, Ace Malo tries; Shandon Scott 2 pen, con, Te Tua Kemp pen, con). HT: 21-3.
Harvey Round Motors Ratana 32 (Te Aaiti Ririnui, Marius Joseph, Isaac Fonotoe, Mikaera Ririnui tries; Matiu Webber pen, 2 con, Steelie Koro pen, con) bt Settlers Honey Ngamatapouri 31 (Michael Nabuliwaqe 2, Timoci Seruwalu 2, Sheldon Parkinga-Manhire tries; Parkinga-Mahire 3 con). HT: 22-7.
Byford's Readimix Taihape 26 (Dane Whale, Paora McCarthy, James Barrett tries; Barrett 3 pen, con) bt Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist 9 (Ricky Alabaster 3 pen).
Senior Championship, Week 8
At Spriggens Park: Kelso Hunterville bt Black Bull Liquor Pirates 36-21. HT: 14-5 Pirates.
At McNab Domain: Counties bt Marist Buffalo's 43-14. HT: 12-0.
At Marton Park: Speirs Food Marton bt Border 62-12. HT: 43-7.
At Memorial Park (Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield): Bennett's Taihape bt Marist Celtic 23-12. HT: 15-7.
At Memorial Park: Utiku OB bt Kaierau 21-7. HT: 14-0.