A few centimetres stood between the Counties Manukau PIC Steelers and a key victory over Northland at Navigation Homes Stadium in Pukekohe.
With time almost up, replacement halfback Te Aihe Toma made a superb run from the base of a 5m scrum, and with everyone rejoicing in his apparent try, the replay showed he lost the ball in the reach for the line.
The Northland visitors managed to run out the remaining two minutes leaving the Steelers with an agonising 20-24 loss.
A victory would have all-but secured the Steelers in the premiership but they will now face a key clash away to North Harbour this weekend before hosting Canterbury at home in the final round.
It proved a robust encounter with both sides more willing to run than kick, although it also had its share of mistakes and turnovers as players were keen to push for the miracle pass than recycle for the next phase.
After an early penalty, the home side gave up a try, before bouncing back into a 10-7 lead with an excellent backline move, a kick Luteru Laulala kick and recover that spun wide through Orbyn Leger to Sione Molia who distanced the cover to score.
However Northland took advantage of Steelers mistakes to dominate possession, running in a try to lead 14-10 at the break, with the home side perhaps fortunate that the difference was not greater.
Northland extended the lead to 21-10 only two minutes into the second half with an excellent set piece try to Jordan Hyland before the home side pushed back into the game.
They answered a dominant phase with an excellent lineout move and drive with Fotu Lokotui scoring.
And they reduced the margin to just one point midway through the half with an excellent try by Toni Pulu with big runs from Matthew Vaai and Viliame Rarasea, some twinkling feet from Etene Nanai-Seturo finished off by Pulu.
Northland came back with a late penalty before the Steelers made a late push for a try to win the game. They thought it came with Toma’s brilliant run that was ruled out.
Nanai-Seturo showed his stunning skills; Leger was the best all-round back for the Steelers, while the front five established a strong scrum and lineout possession.
Scores: Counties Manukau PIC Steelers 20 (Sione Molia, Toni Pulu, Fotu Lokotui tries; 1pen, 1 con)
Northland 24 (Jono Kitto, Jordan Hyland, Josh Goodhue tries; Jack Debreczeni 1 pen, 3 con)
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