Steamers lock Leon Power is hoping for better things out of Baypark Stadium this season than the bitter taste of defeat he got with his Aussie Super 15 outfit early in the Super 15.
Looking odds-on for an upset win, or a draw at worst, against eventual champions the Chiefs in March, Power's Brumbies coughed up an injury-time try to Jackson Willison to head back across the ditch empty-handed. The result proved a harbinger for their season as an uncharacteristic loss to the Blues in the final week of round-robin saw them freefall out of the play-offs.
The 2m lock has been back in Bay of Plenty for a month and is gunning for a big ITM Cup season to make up for the disappointment of the Super Rugby campaign.
The 26-year-old linked with Highlanders secondrower Culum Retallick yesterday at Katikati's Moore Park, with both locks having strong games as the Steamers wrapped up their preseason efforts with a comfortable five-tries-to-three 33-25 win over second tier side North Harbour.
"It's pretty awesome to be back at the Mount and in Bay colours," Power said.
"Today was a step up from our previous two games [wins over Hawke's Bay and the Wasps] but it was a good hit-out, while at the same time giving us a fairly intensive week next week [before next Saturday's opening competition game against Taranaki at Baypark]."
Bay of Plenty led Harbour 14-13 at halftime, jumping to a 14-0 lead after just quarter of an hour, rocket Lance MacDonald scorching 40m after centre Mafileo Kefu intercepted a pass from Harbour second-five Francis Saili, with Chris Noakes converting. Second-five Phil Burleigh provided the thrust over the gain line just minutes later, with flanker Luke Braid burrowing over.
Harbour's reply came through former Bay midfielder Cory Aporo after sloppy defence, with Michael Hobbs banging over two penalties to cut the gap to a point.
Bay of Plenty almost got a third in the first half when referee Bryce Lawrence awarded Power a try, before sheepishly realising it was the 5m line the lock had breached and not the tryline.
MacDonald got his second when Retallick got his sizeable mitts on a stray Harbour pass, flicking his pass to Power and then Noakes before MacDonald scythed over on the cut.
Harbour hooker James Parsons crashed over to keep it tight but two further tries to Kendrick Lynn, who intercepted a wild Hobbs pass, and Burleigh made the game safe before replacement midfielder Pita AhKi made a late dab at the line.
Bay's scrum bowed on occasions but didn't buckle, while some of the handling was sub-par, although Steamers coach Kevin Schuler gave the effort a pass mark in the side's toughest preseason assignment.
"The line speed in defence was good, which showed with a couple of tries from intercepts, and into quite a strong wind in that first half we probably played more than we would have ordinarily. There were times we didn't hang on to the ball as good as we could have but you had to admire the enterprise because we'd certainly consider taking the points a lot more [in a competition game].
"There were errors, but they came from enterprise rather than indecision and, in my book, that's a different type of mistake."
Bay's riches clearly lie in the big numbers. The inside back combination of Noakes, Burleigh and Kefu looks exciting, while there's pace and guile out wide and former All Black Lelia Masaga still to slot back in.
The jury's still out on which of Carl Axtens and Jesse Action will be first pick at No 8, presuming Tanerau Latimer and Luke Braid take a side of the scrum each.
Power knows it'll be another bruising provincial campaign, but one the Steamers are capable of giving a decent nudge. Then it's back to the Australian capital, where he's signed to play for the Brumbies for another two years.
"[Coach] Jake White was great to play under, and with the coaches and trainer and systems he put in place, he got the best out of his players. We were a team of hardworking guys, no flash Harrys, and pretty much built our game plan around that.
"Canberra's not the most exciting city in the world but I've found it great for my rugby because there's not too many ways to get distracted or into trouble."
Bay of Plenty Steamers 33 (Lance MacDonald 2, Kendrick Lynn, Luke Braid, Phil Burleigh tries; Chris Noakes 4 cons) North Harbour 25 (Cory Aporo, James Parsons, Pita AhKi tries; Michael Hobbs 2 pens, con, James Semple con). Halftime: 14-13 (Bay of Plenty).