Harbour seal semifinal spot in style
Sunday, October 16, 2016 allblacks.com Getty Images
Northland looked the better of the two sides for most of the final quarter of the match and outscored North Harbour 21-12 in the second half.
But in the end, the visitors' six-tries-to-four victory saw them secure third place in the Championship, ahead of Bay of Plenty and Manawatu - the latter dropping out of the top-four as a result.
The reward for North Harbour is a trip to Westpac Stadium to play a patchy Wellington side in the semifinals next Saturday.
Sealing qualification is great success for Harbour coach Steve Jackson, who will join the Blues as an assistant coach in the 2017 Super Rugby season.
For Northland, the loss was a limp way to finish their season. While the 2016 season saw them record a rare win against Premiership opposition, the inexperienced side were consigned to the Championship's wooden spoon for the second consecutive season.
They will be buoyed by the fact they outscored the visitors three tries to two in the second half, however by then it was little more than consolation.
North Harbour entered the match needing a win to secure a spot in the Championship semi-finals, after Bay of Plenty upset Hawke's Bay 26-24 on Saturday.
Northland, meanwhile, were looking to play spoilers, and got off to the best possible start thanks to lock Epineri Uluiviti's try in the third minute.
Peter Breen added the extras to shock the visitors, who locked out of sync in the early exchanges.
However, Bryn Gatland's first penalty kick of the afternoon, combined with Northland's ill discipline, kicked the visitors into gear.
North Harbour's first try of the afternoon combined both Li and Duffie, the latter pirouetting his way to the line after the former found himself in plenty of space in the buildup to the try.
Northland continued to infringe and Dan Hawkins' high-tackle, the hosts' eighth straight infringement within 27 minutes, saw the second five-eighths sent to the sinbin.
Li and Duffie benefited in his absence to extend their lead to 25-7.
Hawkins' return wasn't spectacular either, with his fumble falling into the hands of Michael Little, who ran 50 metres to hand Harbour their bonus point try before the end of the first half.
The second half started with some unstructured brilliance from the visitors, resulting in Connor Collett's maiden Mitre 10 Cup try.
It took one of the Taniwha's veterans to stop the rot, and it was Ross Wright whose low body position helped him over the line to give the hosts their second try of the afternoon.
Referee Nick Bryant's patience wore thin, and after five second half penalties it was Harbour who had a player of their own in Afa Fa'atau sent to the sin-bin for all but the last 90 seconds of the match.
Northland's consistent attempts on attack saw them eventually break down North Harbour's defence, and it was fullback Solomon Alaimalo who gave them a deserved third try.
Harbour looked to have the final say through replacement prop Karl Tu'inukuafe, instead it was Waisea Lawebuka who gave Northland a fourth try and a bonus point to finish the season on a high.
Northland 28 (Waisea Lawebuka, Solomon Alaimalo, Ross Wright, Epineri Uluiviti tries; Peter Breen 3 con) North Harbour 44 (Matt Duffie 2, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Connor Collett, Michael Little, Tevita Li tries; Bryn Gatland 3 con, 2 pen; Matt McGahan con). HT: 7-32.
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