Three of seven matches in Saturday's Swindale Shield rugby were decided at the end, as the races to both win the first round title and finish inside the top seven have both cranked up a notch.
There are five weeks left to play in the first round, and as many teams are within striking distance of the lead, headed by frontrunners Hutt Old Boys Marist (39 points), Old Boys University (38), Marist St Pat's and Northern United (both 35) and Poneke (33).
Petone and Tawa - who both suffered ninth round losses - are sixth equal (on 27), with Oriental-Rongotai and Wainuiomata (both 23) and the Upper Hutt Rams (21) filling the all-important mid-table spots.
There were some hard-fought battles on a cloudy, blustery afternoon on Saturday, particularly at the Hutt Recreations Ground and in town at Kilbirnie and Hataitai Parks.
At the Hutt Rec, Hutt Old Boys Marist used their get out of jail free card to beat Tawa. The Eagles held on to beat Tawa 30-28, but the visitors could have won after being awarded a penalty on fulltime but they opted to turn down the penalty shot in favour of an attacking scrum and failed to score a try. Tawa's scrum had been dominant all afternoon but HOBM repelled it when it mattered most.
HOBM had led 17-16 at halftime, then 24-16 early in the second spell with an intercept try with the wind and then 27-16 with a penalty. Tawa came back with tries to No. 8 Tito Ioane off a monster scrum and midfielder Kalim Kelemete to take a 28-27 lead. HOBM re-took that lead with a penalty and held on to the end.
At Kilbirnie, Poneke defeated Wainuiomata 25-21 in a stirring match for the Hakaraia Trophy on their Old Timers' Day. Replacement centre Alex Morrissey broke a deadlock in the shadows of fulltime scoring the winning try.
Wainuiomata scored the game's first two tries, to flanker Matt Jacobs and wing Nash Fiso-Vaelei. to lead 13-3. They extended this to 18-8 and then 18-11 well into the second half. But two yellow cards proved costly for them, with Poneke lock Galu Taufale scoring a try to put them ahead 21-18. Wainuiomata kicked a penalty to draw level at 21-21 but Morrissey crossed for the winner.
At Hataitai, the match between home side the Wellington Axemen and visitors Paremata-Plimmerton unravelled over the final few minutes, after Wellington had led just 3-0 at halftime and Paremata-Plimmerton No. 8 Peni Taupau had stolen an intercept and raced away for a 7-3 lead on 55 minutes.
Playing into a strong wind, Wellington had most of possession and territory in the second half but were met by a wall of Paremata-Plimmerton defenders. This was finally cracked with several minutes to play when prop Tala Kitekei'aho scored to put them ahead 8-7.
Paremata-Plimmerton swung straight on to attack and were awarded a penalty near the sideline but first five-eighth Dre Melvin pulled it to the left of the swirling poles. But they had another opportunity and swung the ball wide to the outstanding No. 8 Taupau who put replacement wing Rocky Manisy in for the winning try. Melvin added the extras from out wide.
The Axemen launched a desperate late assault up into the visitors' 22. A Paremata-Plimmerton defender was sin-binned and the Axemen packed down a scrum. But- as they had done all day with their swarming defence - Paremata-Plimmerton repelled this and celebrated victory.
Elsewhere, there were wins for Oriental-Rongotai, Marist St Pat's, Old Boys University and Northern United.
At Maidstone Park, Marist St Pat's rallied from a 14-16 halftime deficit to beat the Upper Hut Rams 45-23. MSP conceded a dozen penalties in the first-half as Upper Hutt's forwards muscled up for an hour, before fading badly in the last quarter.
MSP rocked the Rams with two tries in two minutes to start the second-half. Daniel Schrijvers scored a try from a lineout in the 55th minute to cut MSP's lead to 28-23, but MSP had far greater firepower off the bench and finish with a flourish to register their third win in a row.
At Helston Park, home side the Johnsonville Hawks pushed defending champions OBU hard match and held them to 7-5 with the wind by halftime. With the wind, OBU scored two more converted tries and extended their lead to 21-5, but could only manage one more as they left grateful to take maximum points.
At the Polo Ground, Oriental-Rongotai celebrated their Old Timers' Day with a victory for the Jim Brown Memorial Trophy.
Ories won the game by running in early points and leaping to an 18-0 lead. Petone climbed back into the contest with three tries but Ories took the win 25-17.
At Jerry Collins Stadium, Northern United took control of their match against the Avalon Wolves from midway through the first half, eventually winning 78-22.
Norths scored twelve tries, with second five-eighth Kienan Higgins scoring two and replacement back Esi Komaisavai also scoring a brace. Jackson Garden-Bachop scored 23 points. Avalon contributed to a lively match by scoring four tries themselves.
Northern United and Marist St Pat's are on track to meet in the last round decider to settle this year's Premier Reserve first round Harper Lock Shield competition.
Both took their ninth straight wins, Norths beating Avalon 69-5 and MSP defeating the Upper Hutt Rams 73-15. Poneke beat Wainuiomata 42-15 to remain third, ahead of Petone who beat Ories 31-17.
The Les Mills Colts competition remains close with more tight battles in the Division 1 Paris Memorial Trophy.
Marist St Pat's remain unbeaten after a month of play after pipping the Upper Hutt Rams Colts 12-11. Defending champions Petone missed out to Norths 36-19, while OBU beat Ories 27-14 after being rocked by two early tries to trail 0-14 after as many minutes. The HOBM Green Colts scored a last minute try to beat Tawa 24-20.
In the JRD Cup Colts Division 2 competition, the Paremata-Plimmerton Colts beat Wellington 59-14 in the inaugural Daniel Baldwin Trophy match, while Johnsonville put OBU White to bed with a 68-0 win and OBU Black beat the Avalon Wolf Cubs 30-13.
In the Women's Rebecca Liua'ana Trophy competition, there were three big wins and a one-pointer.
The close match was Paremata-Plimmerton beating Marist St Pat's 22-21 - halfback Jamie McIntosh kicking the conversion of second five-eighth Sharn Rohloff's try 5 metres to the side of the posts with the final play of the game to win the game.
MSP led 21-10 at halftime, with three tries including another double to midfielder Monica Tagoai, but Paremata-Plimmerton came back to win.
The Old Boys University Impalas came off their bye to register their first win of the season, beating Poneke 69-5. Petone put in their most convincing performance to date in beating Avalon 91-7.
Oriental-Rongotai beat Hutt Old Boys Marist 75-5 in another blowout that was wider than the run of play suggested.Ories scored a flurry of early and late points and in between HOBM were competitive. Left wing Ayesha Leti-L'iga scored five tries.
Eastbourne frolicked to a 69-0 win over the HOBM Howlers in their U85kg Paul Potiki Shield match beside the sea at HW Shortt Park, registered their third straight win.
Last year's beaten finalists Avalon beat the Johnsonville Terrahawks 39-13, while defending champions Wellington missed out 7-43 to the Upper Hutt Rams and recent champions the Tawa Titans were struck down 17-24 by the Wests Roosters and the Paraparaumu side beat MSP 36-0.