"New season, new belief" is the predictable motto for Otago's 2012 ITM Cup campaign; but after a couple of eye-catching performances at home it's a motto that's starting to ring true.
Names like Dickson, Grant and Suckling may not roll off the tongue as readily as Ellis, Kronfeld and Blackie, but those who witnessed the Razorbacks' seven-try romp over North Harbour last night at least left their indoor stadium with some hope for the future of the once-mighty province.
The match served as an advertisement too for why fringe All Blacks need to be playing as much ITM Cup rugby as they can. Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith have both spent most of the past few weeks sitting on their chuffs; hardly surprisingly then that they were brimming with enthusiasm in the Otago backline (if anything, Smith was occasionally guilty of trying to do too much).
Japanese halfback Fumiaki Tanaka continues to be a revelation and must be odds-on to win a Highlanders contract, Paul Grant is a follow-me leader in the mould of Richie McCaw and young flanker Gareth Evans and front-rower Liam Coltman are into everything.
Already Otago have more wins (three) than many predicted them to pick up all season, and they have scored 100 points in two home games; a surefire way to get more bums on seats. Their away form is far less impressive - they've lost badly to Bay of Plenty and Counties - but both served as learning curves for a very inexperienced team.
All of the above praise needs to be qualified by the following statement: Harbour are the laughing stock of New Zealand rugby.
As good as Otago were in Dunedin, Harbour were equally as bad. Possession was coughed up as readily as phlegm in a southern winter; their flimsy defence had given up a bonus point within barely half an hour to an Otago side that hadn't scored in two whole games.
It's scandalous how much talent goes to waste on the North Shore. Francis Saili, who showed glimpses of brilliance for the Blues this year, tried to win the game on his own and failed. Dangerous outside backs like David Raikuna and Rudi Wulf were left rubbing their hands as their insides either knocked the ball on or kicked it away.
What Otago coach Tony Brown would give to the raw talent his former provincial teammate Jeff Wilson has at his disposal at Harbour.
Instead, he's more than making do with shrewd acquisitions (the outstanding Tanaka received a warm ovation when he was subbed, while compatriot hooker Shota Horie played a nice cameo hand off the bench), solid journeymen like second five Glenn Dickson, and youngsters who would play for next to nothing because they want to be part of Otago rugby's rich tapestry.
They have difficult crossover matches to come, against Wellington and Auckland, but with so little expected of them they can only really overachieve. Thoughts of challenging for a return to the premiership should best be put on hold until next season.
Harbour absolutely have to beat fellow strugglers Southland at home on Saturday. Six losses from six is disastrous; seven for seven would be just downright embarrassing. But given the apathy that shrouded their performance in Dunedin, the depths to which they could yet plummet seem endless.