It was mission accomplished for Wellington with a bonus point 29-21 win but it didn’t come easy against a never-say-die Northland side.
The loss has extended Northland’s losing streak to 19 matches but showed that the Taniwha can foot it with the best teams in the competition with an impressive second half fight back.
After leaping to handy leads in both the first and second halves, Wellington were forced to rally against a Northland side that is desperate to break a losing streak that extends back to October 2014.
Wellington started impressively to leap to a 17-0 lead after just 15 minutes. Northland had no answer for the Lions relentless attack as impressive lock Hoani Matenga and 19-year-old hooker Asafo Aumua crashed over after prolonged periods of attack on the line.
It looked like Wellington could run away with the game but Northland began to shut down Wellington’s lateral attack. With the scoring slowed down, Northland halfback Sam Nock caught the Wellington defence napping to put the Taniwha on the board. The electric halfback accelerated through the Wellington defence from a quick tap to feed speedy wing Solomona Alaimalo for the try.
Nock then sparked another period of attack before time was blown on the half with Wellington up 17-7.
Northland started the second half in the worst possible fashion when No.8 Kara Pryor was yellow carded for repeat infringements to leave the Taniwha with 14 men. In the ten minutes Pryor was off the field, New Zealand Under 20 hooker Aumua crossed for two tries to bag a rare hat trick for a tight forward.
Pryor had some making up to do when he came back on the field and sparked Northland’s unlikely revival. After struggling upfront in the first half, Northland shunted Wellington’s scrum back from the 22 metre line before Pryor fed to replacement loose forward Matt Matich to score. Moments later, Northland went over again when the hard working lock Shane Neville crashed over following a relentless build up close to the line.
With the gap closed to 29-21 with 10 minutes to play, Northland tried hard to break through the Wellington defence but were often guilty of slipping one too many passes and conceding unforced errors to slow their momentum.
The loss ends Northland’s faint playoff hopes while are clear second on the Championship ladder.
Wellington captain Brad Shields said: “It’s always tough coming up here. Northland’s mana is strong and they never give up. We felt that in the second half when they put the heat on us.”
Northland 21 (Solomona Alaimalo, Matt Matich, Shane Neville tries, Peter Breen 3 con)
Wellington 29 (Hoani Matenga, Asafo Aumua 3 tries, Jackson Garden-Bachop 3 con, pen)