Six rounds in and one thing is blatantly clear – the Tasman Mako are not the same beast of yesteryear.
Hammered 31-10 by Auckland at Eden Park on Saturday, the reigning champions have lost two of their last three games.
Their 15-match winning streak before North Harbour rocked them a fortnight ago sure seems like a distant memory all of a sudden.
But, now third in the premiership standings behind Auckland and Waikato, there perhaps shouldn’t be as much surprise as there is over their recent form.
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After all, the Mako are down a bunch of firepower from last year, when they were blessed with Liam Squire and Shannon Frizell.
They also had now retired props Tim Perry and Wyatt Crockett, and injured Highlanders lock Pari Pari Parkinson.
Waikato score with final play to hand Canterbury another close loss
Then there’s the loss of outstanding Crusader Will Jordan, who All Blacks coach Ian Foster has wrapped in cotton-wool, despite not using him in the opening two Bledisloe Cup tests.
Auckland, having battled to narrow wins in recent weeks, sure made a statement against a team with the only two released All Blacks this week – Tyrel Lomax and Sevu Reece.
The 2018 champions romped to a 24-0 halftime lead, putting the match out of Tasman’s reach before Reece could even get off the pine.
Waikato also surpassed Tasman in the standings, after replacement Cortez Ratima scored almost nine minutes after the hooter to rock Canterbury in Christchurch.
The Mooloo’s were outscored two tries to one, before their 16-15 win was sealed by pivot Rivez Reihana, who missed twice earlier in the match.
Canterbury, now fifth in the standings, have lost three games by one-point this season, a harsh reality for the youthful and injury-ravaged side.
They will rue a couple of missed chances to extend their 15-6 lead halfway through the second half, before their scrum got tickled up and ultimately cost them a crucial win.
However, with 18 points in the can, they remain in the hunt just a couple of points outside of the semifinal positions, with games against Bay of Plenty and Otago looming.
Even North Harbour, who were edged 25-20 by Wellington, and Bay of Plenty, who thrashed the Turbos, aren’t cooked with 12 points in the bag respectively.
As for the championship section, Hawke’s Bay’s 33-17 Ranfurly Shield defence against Northland leaves them on top, equal with Otago on 20 points, after the blue and golds beat Counties Manukau 40-22 in Dunedin.
Taranaki’s hard-fought 17-9 win over Southland in Invercargill ended a three-match losing skid and shot them into fourth, while the Stags have now dropped three on the bounce.
ROUND 6 RESULTS
Hawke’s Bay 33 (Neria Fomai, Ash Dixon, Danny Toala, Devan Flanders tries; Lincoln McClutchie 2 con, 3 pen) Northland 17 (Lua Li 2 tries; Dan Hawkins con, pen, Johnny Cooper con). HT: 9-3
Bay of Plenty 53 (Joe Webber 2, Kaleb Trask 2, Chase Tiatia, Mathew Skipwith-Garland, Joe Johnston tries; Otere Black, Trask pens, Black 5, Trask cons) Manawatū 35 (Stewart Cruden, Tyler Laubscher, Jamie Booth, Johnny Galloway, Drew Wild tries; Cruden 3, Ben Wyness 2 cons). HT: 38-21
Wellington 25 (Billy Proctor, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Julian Savea tries, Garden-Bachop 2 con, 2 pen) North Harbour 20 (Bryn Gatland, Jared Page, Tomas Aoake tries, Gatland con, pen). HT: 12-13
Auckland 31 (Adrian Choat, Marcel Renata, AJ Lam, Tumua Manu, Salesi Rayasi tries; Harry Plummer 3 con) Tasman 10 (Alex Nankivell, Quentin MacDonald tries.). HT: 24-0.
Taranaki 17 (Reuben O’Neill, Jacob Raumaitayuki-Kneepkens tries; Jayson Potroz pen, Potroz 2 cons) Southland 9 (Scott Eade 3 pens). HT: 7-6.
Waikato 16 (Cortez Ratima try; Rivez Reihana 3 pen, con) Canterbury 15 (Luke Romano, Tamaiti Williams tries; Fergus Burke pen, con). HT: 6-8
Otago 40 (Josh Timu 2, Josh Dickson 2, Freedom Vahaakolo, Charles Elton tries; Josh Ioane 5 con) Counties-Manukau 22 (Alamanda Motuga, Orbyn Leger, Viliami Taulani tries; Baden Kerr 2 con, pen). HT: 21-8.