North Harbour executed the perfect final quarter to seal an entertaining 29-25 win over Manawatu at QBE Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The hosts only scored six tries in their previous three games, but scored three in the first half against the Turbos to take a 17-12 lead into halftime.
Chris Eves pegged a try back for the visitors, but Bryn Gatland’s four penalties ensured the hosts held a 29-22 lead with 10 minutes to go.
Despite Manawatu’s best efforts, the hosts’ defensive resilience held strong and they banked four valuable competition points to breathe down the Bay of Plenty’s neck in the race for a spot in the Championship playoffs.
For the Turbos, the match was just their second loss in six games against North Harbour. They secured a bonus point for their efforts to consolidate their position in third place on the Championship ladder.
The hosts raced out of the blocks, and when Mark Telea sucked in two defenders to set up Matt Duffie, the fullback finished with a one arm dive to give North Harbour a 5-0 lead.
That lead vanished almost immediately when Ngani Laumape scored his first of the afternoon thanks to a brilliant cut-out pass from Otere Black.
The end-to-end affair continued for the remainder of the half, with Tevita Li and Michael Little’s tries bisected by Laumape’s second try of the afternoon for Manawatu.
The Turbos jogged off at halftime trailing 12-17, but were staring down an eight-point deficit within three minutes of the second half after Bryn Gatland’s first penalty of the afternoon.
However, Manawatu regained their composure and Eves returned to haunt his former province and reduce North Harbour’s lead to 20-19.
Both teams traded penalties before Gatland extended North Harbour’s lead to seven points with a little over 12 minutes remaining.
Black reduced the deficit to four points as the minutes ticked down, and Manawatu were awarded a penalty after 20 phases three minutes into overtime.
In the end, Harbour’s defensive pressure was the difference and they secured a much-needed victory in front of an elated QBE Stadium crowd.
Manawatu halfback Jamie Booth was superb for the visitors in his 55 minutes, captain Callum Gibbins had another inspirational outing in his 100th first class game and Curtis Reed did everything right when he came from the reserves bench.
For the victors, one of the big questions will be on the fitness of captain James Parsons. The hooker, who earned his second All Blacks cap against Australia a fortnight ago, limped off after 22 minutes.
North Harbour 29 (Michael Little, Tevita Li, Matt Duffie tries; Bryn Gatland con, 4 pen)
Manawatu 25 (Chris Eves, Ngani Laumape 2 tries; Otere Black 2 con, 2 pen)