Bay of Plenty's play-off aspirations went down the toilet following an upset 36-24 defeat to Northland in Whangarei on Thursday.
Bay of Plenty's semi-final aspirations went down the toilet following an upset 36-24 defeat to Northland at Toll Stadium in Whangarei on Thursday.
The Steamers needed a bonus-point win to stand any chance of making the ITM Cup play-offs, but crumbled under pressure as their hosts signed off on a high.
The four tries to three victory was also the perfect send-off for veteran David Holwell, after the Northland pivot announced his retirement from first-class rugby after 146 ITM Cup matches.
Northland opened the scoring in the first minute through a Lachie Munro penalty, and maintained it in a scrappy first 15 minutes as both teams struggled to build continuity.
Bay of Plenty hit the front courtesy of an intercept try to scrum-half Taniela Moa, who latched onto Northland centre Aaron Bancroft's telegraphed pass to stroll 40 metres to touch down.
Delany added the extras, but the home team hit back almost immediately as Holwell busted through the tackles of John Pareanga and Tanerau Latimer for the 25th try of an illustrious career.
Munro was equally accurate with the boot, and Northland regained the lead at 10-7 only to see Bay of Plenty reply with a well-worked try on the blind side to prop Josh Hohneck.
But the tit-for-tat scoring continued, and just on the half-hour mark Bancroft touched down after Northland capitalised on good field position with some slick work off the top of an attacking line-out.
Although Bay of Plenty battered the Northland line in the closing minutes of the first half, some stout defence saw the home team go into the break with a narrow 17-14 lead.
While the visitors regained the lead early after the restart with a try to replacement centre Grant McQuoid – and a conversion to multi-talented captain Colin Bourke – Northland bounced back with tries to flanker Dean Budd and halfback Rhyan Caine to lead 31-21 with 20 minutes remaining.
Bourke narrowed the gap to seven with a well-struck penalty, and Bay of Plenty looked ready to square the scores at 70 minutes when Moa broke free on an intercept, only to find Northland full-back Jared Payne tracking back to shut down the movement and save the try.
The hard-earned win was finally secured with less than five minutes to go, when winger Simon Munro finished off another sweeping Northland to touch down in the corner.
Tries: Holwell, Bancroft, Budd, Caine
Cons: Munro 4
For Bay of Plenty:
Tries: Moa, Hohneck, McQuoid
Cons: Delany 2, Bourke
Northland: 15 Jared Payne (c), 14 Simon Munro, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Aaron Bancroft, 11 Lachie Munro, 10 David Holwell, 9 Rhyan Caine, 8 Cameron Eyre, 7 Joel McKenty, 6 Dean Budd, 5 Mark Burman, 4 Pat O'Connor, 3 Bronson Murray, 2 Mikaele Tuu'u, 1 Matt Wallis.
Replacements: 16 Tim Dow, 17 Ross Wright, 18 Roy Griffin, 19 Dan Pryor, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 Adam Clarke, 22 Iwi Hauraki.
Bay of Plenty: 15 Toby Arnold,14 Ben Smith,13 Brett Mather,12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Jason Hona, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Colin Bourke (c), 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Luke Braid, 5 Luke Andrews, 4 John Moore, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 John Pareanga, 1 Joe Savage.
Replacements: 16 Daniel Perrin, 17 Tristan Moran, 18 Aiden Kuka, 19 Solomon King, 20 Chad Tuoro, 21 Grant McQuoid, 22 Smith/Corey Aporo.
Referee: Garratt Williamson