North Harbour got their season off to a fine start when they claimed a 20-17 win over Premiership side Counties Manukau in Albany on Thursday.
In a fast-paced and entertaining match, both sides ran the ball from all areas of the field and although they were evenly matched for large periods it was the hosts who got the rub of the green in the end, coming away with a deserved victory.
Both teams scored two tries apiece although Counties, who had 11 new faces in their matchday squad, committed several unforced errors which cost them the result.
The hosts opened the scoring inside the opening 10 minutes when Afa Faatau dived onto the ball behind Counties' try-line after Matt Duffie had stabbed a perfectly weighted grubber kick through in the build-up.
Matt Vaega added the extras but five minutes later Joe Reynolds opened Counties' account via a penalty, and the visitors took the lead when Jordan Taufua powered his way over the try-line from close quarters in the 26th minute.
Counties suffered a setback in the 33rd minute, however, when Sam Vaka was yellow carded for an early tackle on Vaega after North Harbour were on the attack close to the visitors' try-line.
The second half was an attritional affair as the sides tried to gain the ascendancy, and we had to wait until the 54th minute for the half's opening points when Bryn Gatland slotted a penalty.
Two minutes later, Vaka's game went from bad to worse when he failed to deal with the ball behind his try-line – after Bryn Hall had kicked ahead – and all Michael Little, who impressed througout, had to do was dive onto the ball for his side's second try.
Counties upped the ante on attack and were rewarded in the 74th minute when Sione Faletau barged over for their second try, from a ruck close to North Harbour's line and although they were camped inside their opponents' half in the game's latter stages, they couldn't add to their points tally.
For North Harbour:
Tries: Faatau, Little
Cons: Vaega, Gatland
Pens: Vaega, Gatland
Yellow Card: Vaka
For Counties Manukau:
Tries: Taufua, Faletau
Cons: Francis 2
North Harbour: 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Afa Faatau, 13 Matt Vaega, 12 Michael Little, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Matt Mcgahan, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Murphy Taramai, 7 Kane Jacobson, 6 Chris Vui, 5 Brandon Nansen, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Nic Mayhew
Replacements: 16 Vyron Smith, 17 Adrian Smith, 18 Karl Tuinukuafe, 19 Glen Preston, 20 Dylan Lam, 21 Chris Smyli, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Mark Telea
Counties Manukau: 15 Joe Reynolds, 14 Sam Vaka, 13 Joseph Ikenasio, 12 Cardiff Vaega, 11 Sherwin Stowers, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Richard Judd, 8 Sootala Fa’aso’o, 7 Fotu Lokotui, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Jimmy Tupou (c), 4 Viliame Rarasea, 3 Kalolo Tuiloma, 2 Gafatasi Su’a, 1 Sean Bagshaw
Replacements: 16 Suliasi Taufalele, 17 Jarred Adams, 18 Sione Faletau, 19 Matiaha Martin, 20 Viliami Taulani, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Kalione Hala, 23 Luteru Laulala
Referee: Shane McDermott