The Hurricanes produced their best performance of the tournament so far to score a hard-fought 30-24 away win over the Crusaders in Christchuch on Friday.
The Hurricanes were unfazed by the defending champions' impressive 82 per cent home win record as they had the better of both territory and possession.
The boot of Hurricanes fly-half Piri Weepu proved to be the difference between the sides after a late rally from the Crusaders earned them a fourth try to their visitors' three and two bonus points.
Piri Weepu got the ball rolling for the Hurricanes after just five minutes with a long range penalty. It was a moment that seemed to set the tone for the match: the Crusaders were offside and Weepu produced a great kick to punish them.
Five minutes later the scenario repeated itself and the home side were six points down. Their rush defence and eagerness to push the limits of the law at the rucks was wearing referee Stuart Dickinson's patience down and handing points to their visitors.
If the Hurricanes were even going to have a chance, their pack would need to secure more possession than their opponents, and they were doing just that.
The men in red were however creating space out wide but weren't running straight enough to exploit it and on two or three occasions opportunities went begging. When Colin Slade missed an easy penalty things seemed to be going worryingly wrong for the defending champs.
A try from Casey Laulala put things right for a while though. Jared Payne split the Hurricanes defence with a blistering run to set up a ruck just short of the try-line. The ball was quickly recycled for Laulala's strike. It was classic Crusaders stuff.
But the Hurricanes were enjoying the lion's share of possession and soon made it count. Conrad Smith broke clear, running around Tim Fairbrother, and rearing down the touchline. Zac Guildford arrived on his shoulder at pace and hung on to score, showing real strength to crash over.
Dickinson's patience then ran out with the Crusaders at the breakdown and Richie McCaw was sent to the bin.
Weepu slotted another excellent kick and the visitors led 16-7 at the break.
The Crusaders started the second half in the best possible fashion as Brad Thorn rounded off a period of sustained pressure. The Hurricanes committed suicide by handing the champs possession with a few ill-judged kicks and were made to learn the hard way.
Vitally, the Hurricanes were next to score, and in doing so took some of the wind out of the Crusaders sails. Alby Mathewson snapped up a loose ball to go in under the posts, against the run of play, to restore the eleven-point lead.
More trouble was to follow for the Crusaders as Ma'a Nonu finished off a brilliant Hurricanes attack that he had started deep in his own half.
At 30-12 the home side looked dead and buried but the last ten minutes were all Crusaders.
Payne was one off the stand-out players for the Crusaders and his efforts were rewarded as he crossed the whitewash after replacement lock Isaac Ross had slipped through the Hurricanes rush defence. Payne's pace - and he's got lots of it - did the rest.
The momentum had swung and the Hurricanes were struggling to get their hands back on the ball. Skipper Rodney So'oialo was given the same treatment as his Crusaders counterpart and finished the game in the sin-bin.
The Crusaders were back in with a shout when Thomas Waldrom scored against his former team-mates but the final whistle came too soon.
On this form Hurricanes have announced themselves as title contenders after a disappointing start to the season. They'll have to confirm this week's showing against the Cheetahs next weekend.
Man of the match: Unlike Stephen Brett, who had a largely forgettable game, Jared Payne provided some excitement in the Crusaders back three. Piri Weepu's kicking was flawless for the Hurricanes and before his yellow card Rodney So'oialo was having an excellent game. But Ma'a Nonu gets our nod. Long gone are the days when the All Blacks centre simply charges forward, his passing was top class and he created space for those around him. He scored a try too!
For the Crusaders:
Tries: Laulala, Thorn, Payne, T. Waldrom
Cons: Slade, Brett
For the Hurricanes:
Tries: Guildford, Mathewson, Nonu
Cons: Weepu 3
Pens: Weepu 3
Yellow cards: McCaw (Crusaders -29th min - repeated offside infringement) ; So'oialo (Hurricanes - 77th min - repeated ruck infringements)
Crusaders: 15 Stephen Brett, 14 Jared Payne, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Kade Poki, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Kieran Read, 5 Ross Filipo, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Jason Macdonald, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Daniel Perrin, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Isaac Ross, 19 George Whitelock, 20 Tyson Keats, 21 Ryan Crotty, 22 Adam Whitelock.
Hurricanes: 15 Tamati Ellison, 14 Zac Guildford, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Piri Weepu, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Rodney So'oialo (c), 7 Scott Waldrom, 6 Karl Lowe, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Jacob Ellison, 17 Neemia Tialata, 18 Bryn Evans, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 21 Jason Kawau, 22 David Smith.
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchuch
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)
Touch judges: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Keith Brown (New Zealand)
Television match official: Kane McBride (New Zealand)