In a year in which they regained some respectability, the Manawatu Cyclones finished their season on a high, thrashing Hawke's Bay.
Manawatu beat Hawke's Bay 57-17 in Napier on Saturday, finishing fifth because Waikato upset Canterbury to pip the Cyclones for fourth spot by one point on the table.
This year, Manawatu beat Hawke's Bay, Wellington (43-31) and Waikato (63-25) but lost to Auckland (57-15), Canterbury (40-12) and Otago (31-17).
So after last year's winless campaign, coach John Kendal thought they were heading in the right direction.
"Realistically, if we got over Otago we were a top-three team," he said. "I think it just shows you the work and the commitment. We've just got a little wee way to go with the mental toughness and self-belief against the top two sides."
He hoped they would keep the core players together so they could keep improving in future seasons, as he and assistant Stu Ross were keen to stay on.
Kendal said players still had to learn to make the step up from club rugby to representative rugby but the signs were good.
"Like I said to the ladies in camp, we've had some wonderful support from the union. Time to build up that support. We want the team to grow - you've got to be worth the investment. At the end of the day, at grass-roots level it's about performing. When they make decisions, they cut budgets. [We've] earned the respect as a union and as players."
Most of the players were returning next year and he said there was talk of the Eketahuna club changing from the Wellington competition to the Manawatu competition, which would increase Manawatu's depth.
Against Hawke's Bay, Manawatu were under pressure in the first 20 minutes but Selica Winiata scored a 60m effort to turn the tide Manawatu's way.
Manawatu were too impatient early on and were trying to score off first- and second-phase ball.
"At halftime I said ‘we don't want to rely on individual brilliance to win this game'," Kendal said.
"The way we're playing, that's what we're trying to do.
"We need to play as a team and get to fourth and fifth phase'. As soon as we did that, Hawke's Bay couldn't hang on."
After that, Manawatu's slick backs started to create breaks, including Winiata, who crossed for two tries and kicked five conversions, taking her season tally to 112 points, which broke the season record set by Auckland's Tammi Wilson (101) in 1999.
The win also gave Manawatu the Attenborough and McBeth Cup, a trophy from when Hawke's Bay and Manawatu played the first women's interprovincial match in 1980.
Hawke's Bay have had the trophy the past two years, so Manawatu were pleased to finish the season with some silverware.
Manawatu 57 (Selica Winiata 2, Shakira Baker 2, Kristina Sue, Tatiana Taufua, Amy Williams, Crystal Mayes, Sarah Goss tries; Winiata 5, Goss con), Hawke's Bay 17. HT 24-12.
- Manawatu Standard
Does more need to be done to protect NZ passports?