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Manawatu crush Harbour hearts at the death

Published: 10:01PM Thursday September 13, 2012 Source: ONE Sport

Manawatu have added to North Harbour's woes in the ITM Cup with a thrilling 23-20 come from behind win at Albany Stadium.

North Harbour, who have plummeted to their fifth consecutive loss and are rooted at the bottom of the ITM Cup Championship table with Southland, seemingly had their first win of the season in the bag when they led 20-16 with two minutes to go.

But from a five metre scrum and with possession in hand they buckled on their own try line and, like a thief in the night, rookie halfback Papa Wharewera planted his palm conspicuously on the pill for the killer blow.

It was Manawatu's first win on the North Shore but at halftime, trailing 15-6, it looked like they would continue their poor form on the other side of Auckland's Harbour Bridge.

North Harbour's improved showing against Northland on Sunday, where they went down by a solitary point, suggested they were on an upward swing and in the first half it appeared that spike would continue in the right direction.

They dominated possession (65%-35%) and showed good hunger at the breakdown.

A real feature of their play was the pick and drive where they patiently built on attack and reaped the benefits of Blues midfield back Francis Saili showing penetration from 10.

Their first try came after 15 minutes when Rudi Wulf pounced on loose ball on Manawatu's 22, surged through a gaping hole and found Sam Hayes-Stevenson, like any good openside flanker, to score in the corner.

Seven minutes later they found their second when a blockbusting linebreak from winger Nafi Tuitavake enabled lock Api Ratuniyarawa to eventually crash over.

But if Harbour have a weak Achilles heel it is their inability to kick on in the second half. They led 17-6 against Northland a few days ago before succumbing to nerves and this match took a similar vein.

After a Craig Claire penalty narrowed the lead to 15-9, openside flanker Callum Gibbins got quick ball from a set-piece play and make a surging break before Jason Emery was on hand to score next to the sticks.

Ten points in the blink of an eye and Manawatu were in front for the first time tonight but it wouldn't stay that way for long.

Harbour reverted back to what had got them ahead in the first place: patience, keeping the ball in close quarters, picking and driving for 14 phases before Manu Leiataua eventually crashed over to regain the lead with 13 minutes to go.

With Harbour closing in on an elusive win, Sevens magician Tomasi Cama made a dazzling break to get Manawatu within striking distance before Wharewera eventually put the final nail in the coffin.

The Turbos, who have improved their record to 2-3 , have a week off before visiting Counties Manukau next Thursday night while Harbour will try to break their duck against Otago in Dunedin on Tuesday.

Manawatu 23 (Jason Emery, Papa Wharewera tries; Craig Claire 3xpenalties, 2xconversions)

North Harbour 20 (Sam Hayes-Stevenson, Api Ratuniyarawa, Manu Leiataua tries; Luke Devcich 1xpenalty, 1xconversion)

Halftime: North Harbour 15-6