Counties clinch top spot in Championship
Counties Manukau have secured themselves home field advantage for as long as they're in the playoffs by beating Northland 44-31 in Whangarei today.
Needing just one point to secure top spot in the Championship, they grabbed the maximum five as the put in another scintillating performance for the season.
The result means they will host Southland next weekend, who've finished fourth in the Championship.
For Northland, the season ends with three wins and seven losses and that has to be regarded as a disappointing campaign.
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan was at the game and he would have been pleased with how Rene Ranger played, but there would have been few other Northland players who pushed their claims for Super Rugby selection.
Counties showed no signs of any loss of confidence from three straight losses as they attacked with vigour early on and they were initially rewarded with a penalty kick by Tim Nanai-Williams.
The fullback was in the thick of the action again shortly after as he broke up the middle of the Northland defence then offloaded to Rey Lee Lo, allowing the centre to score a try.
Following a second Nanai-Williams penalty, Counties' Ma'ama Vaipolu was yellow carded for not rolling away from the tackle.
Northland, or more particularly winger Mateo Malupo, took advantage of the extra player by scoring two tries to get the home sided back in the game.
The Taniwha would have been happy going into the break just three points down after all of Counties' early endeavours, but again Nanai-Williams had a big impact, this time rounding the Northland defence to score a try.
The game was pretty much in the bag early in the second half when Matt Talaese scored from close range and Sikeli Nabou benefitted from a great run by Sherwin Stowers for the bonus point try.
Another try from Nanai-Williams boosted his chances of picking up the award as NPC Player of the Year, while Derek Carpenter picked up a consolation try for Northland.
Sherwin Stowers picked up a deserved try in his 50th game for the Steelers
Dan Pryor and Matt Wright both picked up tries for Northland late in the game to at least give the home crowd something to smile about.
(Mateo Malupo 2, Derek Carpenter, Dan Pryor, Matt Wright tries; Ash Moeke con, Matt Wright 2 cons)
(Rey Lee Lo, Tim Nana-Williams 2, Matt Talaese, Sikeli Nabou, Sherwin Stowers tries; Nanai-Williams 2 pens, 4 cons)