The Amber and Blacks are the new ITM Cup Premiership champions, becoming the first province outside the ‘big five’ since finals were introduced in 1992 to win the title with a 36-32 win over Tasman.
The Makos, one of the great stories of the season reaching the decider after being promoted from the ITM Cup Championship last year, were full value and pushed right until the death, with Billy Guyton scoring in the final minute.
Alas it was not enough against the consistent Taranaki machine, who have won their first major domestic title with a composed performance.
Indeed, the Amber and Blacks deserve the tag of the fairy tale of the season, after the side finished sixth in the Premiership last year with just three wins and 14 tries from ten games.
However in 2014, the transformation has been complete, topping the table after the regular season with seven wins, 31 tries and a competition leading seven four-try bonus points.
It is Taranaki’s eighth title, but first from outside the second division.
With the national anthem being sung passionately to over 21,000 fans at Yarrow Stadium, both sides looked steeled and ready for the game.
Taranaki were dealt a late blow with confirmation that powerful number eight Blade Thomson had been ruled out, with Iopu Iopu-Aso coming into the starting team.
The opening of the match was a furious feast as two well-prepared outfits went at each other hammer and tong.
Tasman would put together the first genuine period of attack, putting together a nice maul which would force the Amber and Blacks to pull down the ruck.
However it would be Taranaki wing Codey Rei who would kick the first penalty over the posts after Tasman were pinged for an illegal tackle.
This would spark the home team into action, with Colin Cooper’s troops getting their strike runners into the game more often, with Maori All Blacks captain Charlie Ngatai and Seta Tamanivalu combining on numerous occasions up the middle.
Rei would add his second when the Makos defence got overeager, and plenty of sentiment was on display as more than once the teams came together with a bit of steam coming out of their ears.
Tasman would kick into gear, earning a penalty but the usually prolific Marty Banks missed his opening slot from the tee.
However the visitors would not relent and, while finding some success attacking Taranaki up the middle of the field, would find Kieron Fonotia off a ruck near the posts.
The TMO would eventually confirm the score for the ecstatic centre.
Both sides would continue to attack but it was absolutely even in the possession and territory stakes, and while there was a breakout or two, with Tom Marshall and Tamanivalu conspicuous.
However Taranaki would earn a penalty in the 31st minute, and without warning hooker Rhys Marshall took the quick tap from five metres out and crashed over just to the right of the posts.
Banks and Rei would trade penalties leaving the match delicately poised at 16-10.
The Makos discipline, conceding ten penalties in the first half (to Taranaki’s four) was an issue, but despite some blinding ball movement only five times had there been an error – highlighting the quality of the contest.
With the coaching teams confirming that both groups of players were exhausted at halftime, and the crowd maintaining their admirable role of brilliant support, the second half commenced.
The opening minutes of the final stanza was marvellous.
Both unions came out firing but eventually Taranaki would turn over a Tasman offensive play, clear the ball with gusto, before a wickedly nasty bounce bamboozled the Makos defenders.
Enter Ngatai who showed some good footwork and football skills to toe the ball over to score.
Banks would miss his second penalty minutes later but would make amends to make it 23-13 after 48 minutes.
The Amber and Blacks were eventually beginning to take control of the 2014 Premiership Final, and as the usually fertile kicking boot of Banks pulled another wide, Ngatai would again influence the match.
With Tasman hot on attack, Ngatai would make a well-timed dash forward, and pinch the pass of Tom Marshall, and with all of the Makos in the attacking line, the second five-eighth would run to the line unopposed.
Rei, who was impeccable from the tee, slotted over the conversion and it was 30-13 with 25 minutes left to play.
Yet Tasman, the darlings of the 2014 campaign, didn’t defeat Canterbury twice to make the final in their first season in the top flight to lie down and die.
Billy Guyton would score a hugely important try after reserve lock Tevita Cavubati smashed his way up the field.
When Peter Samu had his try confirmed six minutes later, it was 33-27 with less than ten to play, and it was game on as the multitude of excited Amber and Black supporters began to scream as they sensed some history was close.
Two minutes later Rei would kick over his eighth kick of the evening to force Tasman to score twice to take the match, and as a consequence the Makos were rushing the game to some degree.
A late Guyton try was reward for some endeavour but the ‘Naki had done enough and celebrations commenced.
Tries: R Marshall, Ngatai (2)
Cons: Rei (3)
Pens: Rei (5)
Tries: Fonotia, Guyton (2), Samu
Cons: Banks (3)
Pens: Banks (2)
Taranaki: 15 James Marshall (c), 14 Codey Rei, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Chris Smylie, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Berny Hall, 6 Mitchell Crosswell, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Riki Hoeata, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Mitchell Graham.
Replacements: 16 Sione Lea, 17 Ryan Cocker, 18 Mitchell Brown, 19 Iopu Iopu-Aso, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Jackson Ormond, 22 Kurt Baker.
Tasman: 15 Robbie Malneek, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Tom Marshall, 11 James Lowe, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Shane Christie, 6 Pete Samu, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Siua Hulanukunuka.
Replacements: 16 Jesse MacDonald, 17 Reuben Northover, 18 Tevita Cavubati, 19 Vernon Fredricks, 20 Billy Guyton, 21 David Havili, 22 Mitchell Scott.
Date: Saturday, October 25
Venue: Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant referees: Nick Briant, Damian Botherway
Television match official: Glenn Newman