It wasn't pretty but the Manawatu Turbos opened their season with a 28-23 win over Northland in Whangarei today.
Down 23-14 with 10 minutes left, Manawatu looked as if they had run out of steam, but two tries in the last nine minutes gave them their fourth National Provincial Championship win in a row over the Taniwha.
Manawatu's defence was shaky at times, especially out wide, where big Northland winger Jone Macilai was one man the Turbos couldn't put down.
With four minutes left, Northland were awarded two penalties, kicking to the corner to try and score, but twice hooker Jordan Olsen overthrew his jumpers and Manawatu snaffled the ball.
Northland's backs made breaks, but their turnover rate was too high, conceding 28 turnovers, while the crucial stat for Manawatu was their 24 missed tackles.
Northland looked to have the game won when halfback Sonatane Takalua dived over for a soft try from a ruck to put them up by nine but Manawatu got down the other end of the field and second five-eighth Hamish Northcott was put in a hole by No 10 Jade Te Rure to score. Turbos captain Callum Gibbins then scored the matchwinner, going off the back of a rolling maul untouched.
In the first half, Te Rure and his Northland counterpart Dan Hawkins traded penalties inside the first quarter hour, before Hawkins was sin binned for a deliberate knock down in the 24th minute.
He slapped it down when it looked as if could have caught the ball and would have scored under the sticks untouched.
However, Manawatu couldn't capitalise with the extra man. Te Rure slotted the penalty, but Mathew Wright answered straight back to save Hawkins any embarrassment.
They traded penalties again, then Manawatu No 8 Antonio Kiri Kiri gassed through a hole to score and give them a 14-9 lead.
Northland scored back-to-back tries through Takalua and winger Filipo Nakosi, who was on the end of a great counter attack from fullback Wright, before Manawatu finished things off.
The Turbos kept kicking down the throats of Wright and Macilai, who broke tackles just about every time. The impact of lock Fraser Stone and prop Chris Eves off the bench was huge for Manawatu, while Northland flanker Jack Ram had a big game with his runs out wide and work at the breakdown.
Manawatu 28 (Antonio Kiri Kiri, Hamish Northcott, Callum Gibbins, tries; Jade Te Rure 3 pen, 2 con) Northland 23 (Sonatane Takalua, Filipo Nakosi, tries; Dan Hawkins 2 pen, 2 con, Mathew Wright pen) HT: 9-6.
- Manawatu Standard
What have you made of the ITM Cup this season?