Just four years ago Counties Manukau were close to going to the wall.
They were burdened with massive debts and the NZRU were only interested in bailing them out if they would agree to being demoted to the Heartland Championship.
On the field they were also a mess with Siale Piutau their only player with a Super Rugby contract.
Now, not only do they have the Ranfurly Shield, thanks to their gripping 27-24 win over Hawke's Bay on Saturday, but they are also the current holders of the NPC Championship trophy, debts are being cleared and they were able to field 11 players with Super Rugby experience in Saturday's challenge.
Off the field the turnaround has been led by CEO Andrew Maddock, on it, it was initially instigated by Milton Haig and then taken further by Tana Umaga.
There were plenty of celebrations at Auckland Airport yesterday when the team returned form Napier and among the 300 people giving them a hero's welcome were some who remember just how bad things were back in 2009.
"It feels like a miracle," said Matthew Newman, who was the chairman back in the provinces darkest days.
"Going from the low of almost being expelled from the competition, to the highs of winning the Championship last year and now holding the Shield. It is absolutely unbelievable."
Umaga has brought through talented young Counties players like Rey Lee-Lo, Bundee Aki and Baden Kerr. But there are still a few players left who can appreciate this Shield win because they still remember how bad things were.
"All the credit has to go to the people around the union," said fullback Sherwin Stowers.
"The NZRU wanted to kick us out, but we fought to stay and we're reaping the rewards of that now."
The quietly spoken prop Simon Lemalu made his debut for the province in 2006 and said it was an emotional experience for him to be part of a Counties team that's taken the Log o' Wood.
"I really cried out hard when the final whistle went and I was thinking of the past players I've played with.
"Now we've achieved something massive in New Zealand rugby and I'm really proud of the boys.
"This means a lot to this union and the community, especially with the junior rugby. They will see this and aim to play for the Steelers when they get older."
Umaga also believes Saturday's win will do a lot for the communities in the Counties area.
"We have gone through some tough times, but we've developed some real character," Umaga said.
"I don't think we're out of the woods just yet, but hopefully this is the start of something growing for us and we can initiate some real positive things coming to Counties Manukau and that this is a pathway to achieve.
"It isn't just about us, we've incorporated a women's team this year, our teams are growing, our participation in Counties Manukau is growing, rugby is growing and that's great for our community."
- © Fairfax NZ News