A 15-minute stint camped within smelling distance of their opponent’s line without reward proved the telling factor as the PIC Counties Manukau Steelers gave way 6-14 to North Harbour at Navigation Homes Stadium in Pukekohe.
While Harbour had much the better of the first half in damp conditions to lead 9-0 at halftime, the Steelers took control upfront and put the heat on their opponents throughout the second half.
Their forward dominance at scrum, lineout and on the drive went agonisingly close to the line on a number of occasions, accompanied by a bunch of penalties. Eventually Harbour withstood the onslaught to return to score the only try and wrap up just their second win over the Steelers in the last seven contests.
The stats were all with Counties Manukau who enjoyed 62 percent of the possession and 66 percent of the territory but it did not result in points on the board.
“I think the boys can be proud of putting out a better performance than last week,” said All Blacks No 8 Hoskins Sotutu, who had his first start for the Steelers, producing 12 carries, 46m gained, 7 tackles and 6 linebreaks.
“We talked this week about taking another step and I guess we did that but didn’t get the result,” said Sotutu.
“There were a few times when we might have looked at some other options but we just backed ourselves to get over the line but obviously came up short. Every game we are going to get better and you will see a better Counties side each week.
“The minutes tonight was good for me but playing for Counties is even better. I am really enjoying it here.”
Harbour started with more poise and purpose with three first half penalties by Bryn Gatland leading to a scoreboard advantage with the Steelers getting little look in and had to rely on their defence to keep the visitors at bay.
The second half was a different matter when the Steelers pack started to dominate, and debutante Alex McRobbie, grandson of Counties Manukau centurion Ean McRobbie, made a significant impact off the bench at lineout time especially.
The scrum took control, led by Wallaby centurion Sekope Kepu and they were perhaps unlucky not to get more reward after the repeated infringements from the Harbour front row.
The boot of Jarrod Halliday brought the Steelers to within three points with 14 minutes to play, after a successful penalty from halfway. But Harbour hit back almost immediately with Shaun Stevenson scoring the game’s only try.
While the Steelers looked for opportunities, the Harbour defence held out. The effort, the set-piece, the defence and attitude were all A Plus, and with execution to match the desire, the Steelers will reap more rewards.
The game saw debuts for Ray Tatafu and late replacement Penasi Malimali along with first starts for Amanaki Savieti and Sotutu,
The Steelers travel to Nelson to meet Tasman in their next encounter in the Bunnings NPC on Sunday 22 August.
Scorers: PIC Counties Manukau Steelers 6 (Jarrod Halliday 2 pen) North Harbour 14 (Shaun Stevenson try, Bryn Gatland 3 pen)
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