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Northern sub-union supremacy in Tasman Tanning Premier remains conclusively with Byfords Readimix Taihape, although McCarthy's Transport Ruapehu showed signs of progress after an entertaining 38-22 country scrap on Saturday.
In front of a good Memorial Park crowd in sunny autumn conditions, Taihape's continuity as a playing group told as they blew out to a 31-10 lead not long after halftime - catching out Ruapehu with ball in hand while lining them up for some hard-thumping midfield tackles to force the mountain men back behind the advantage line.
However, while Taihape's mantra of contesting anything and everything at the breakdown often results in plenty of turnovers, it also occasionally brings a heavy dose of the referee's whistle, which allowed Ruapehu to stay in the contest through their remaining veterans and enterprising attacking play from their small but plucky outside backs.
Two tries in the dying minutes, the second an excellent breakout from their own half, gave Ruapehu the first bonus point from one of the three lower-tier sides in the Premier competition, locking them into the fourth spot on the table, although the proud club has designs of being more than "best of the rest" in 2021.
Taihape continue to add strings to their bow – No 8 Ben Whale joining his brothers has added another gear to their attack, as he was dominant in the midfield, while Tyrese Payne continues to improve after his debut in Premier last season – scoring a long-range intercept try early, then spotting Ruapehu sleeping with a quick tap to set prop Hadlee Hay-Horton away for a quick score straight after halftime.
Fullback Dane Whale controlled the tempo with his boot in general play, and after a wayward first half with the conversions, came right to slot all three attempts in the second stanza.
Hooker Dylan Gallien and flankers Beau Walker and Regan Collier left their mark with some solid tackling.
For Ruapehu, it was great to see former Steelform Wanganui skipper back Roman Tutauha back in the starting XV, with the hooker laying on Ruapehu's first try and scoring the second, both from blindside surges on signature rolling mauls.
Co-captain Campbell Hart was an island in a sea of Taihape jerseys, while promising reserve back Logan Blackburn impressed when he came on in the last 15 minutes, scoring the bonus point try and finally slotting a conversion for the visitors as their third kicker.
With head coach Tom Wells away, his predecessor and current assistant Kerry Whale took the helm for a team containing his three sons and appreciated that, despite the two sides being at different stages in their development, the visitors still brought them a familiar tussle.
"Ruapehu should be proud of themselves. They're probably more than a step off with young fellas finding their feet.
"It was a good game, you'd expect nothing less. We're still scrappy, haven't settled into our play yet.
"We've got a couple of returnees coming back in next week."
Ruapehu head coach Kim McNaught remains determined to drive his players forward, as they look to become the first lower-tier team to beat one of the three leading clubs in two seasons.
"It's like I said to the boys – 'the little one-percenters'.
"That intercept try, and probably that one down here where they kicked it back and we didn't get back in time.
"They're well structured – with those Whale boys, they get this team around the paddock.
For us, it's just getting all the boys to training. We're trying to run a structure where it's hard to do.
"If we get everyone there, and we get Jamie [Hughes] back, we'll be right.
"Our set-piece is good, but for the third or fourth phase we get in, we kind of lose shape - and with a team like this, they pick out a weak D."
• Taihape 38 (T Payne, D Whale, B Whale, H Hay-Horton, J Barrett, T Mumby tries; Whale 4 con) bt Ruapehu 22 (O Keast, R Tutauha, G Hakaraia, L Blackburn tries; Blackburn con). HT: 17-10.