A top four finish appears to be out of reach for Whakarewarewa as they went down 20-17 to Rotoiti in Baywide premier rugby at the weekend.
With four rounds remaining it was crucial for the red and blacks to win every game but the lakesiders refused to let Whaka have their way as they hosted the Rotorua side at Emery Park.
Battles between the two sides have always been colossal and Saturday's match was no exception. Some of the hits in the game were worthy of being on The Crowd Goes Wild's "Smashed 'em Bro".
The Kevin Lee-coached side were on the defensive right from the kick off as the larger Rotoiti pack rumbled the ball forward. The home side's captain and No 8 Jesse Acton showed why the Steamers are looking at him this season with some great angled runs which often broke the advantage line.
However, Whaka's defensive line seemed to be holding, especially in the backs, thanks to the inclusion of former All Black Caleb Ralph who was drafted into the side earlier in the week.
But the Rotorua side were guilty of three defensive lapses during the game which would eventually lead to their side's downfall. The first came in the fifth minute when Whaka were stretched but looked like they had Rotoiti covered. However, Rotoiti fullback Kevin Guptill broke two weak tackles to go over in the corner, a try which he was unable to convert.
The ease with which Rotoiti scored didn't seem to faze Whaka and they continued to battle on, with Ralph scoring an equaliser five minutes later.
But Rotoiti were soon in again after another defensive lapse by Whaka, inside their 22, Ralph attempting a chip kick which was charged down. Rotoiti regathered but an ineffectual cover defence gave David Fraser an easy run in for Rotoiti's second try.
Whaka went into the break ahead 11-10, from two Maurice Stone penalties, but Rotoiti hit the lead a couple of minutes after the break when centre Beau Kiel tore through the middle of the Whaka defensive line. Whakataki Cunningham converted to take the score to 17-11.
It didn't make it any easier for Whaka that match referee Phil Barnett seemed reluctant to pull out a yellow card for Rotoiti's constant infringements at the break down.
The lakesiders had a 23-10 penalty count (16 in the second half) for falling over the ball or hands in the ruck.
Cunningham would kick a penalty to send the lead out to 20-11 but Whaka narrowed it to the final score of 20-17 with a drop goal and penalty to Stone.
Whaka had the chance in the dying minutes to level the score when they received a kickable penalty but opted for the scrum, which was repelled by a spirited Rotoiti side - who now hold the Tai Mitchell shield.
In other matches in the premier division Te Puke Sports were lucky to escape with an 18-16 win over Rangataua at Te Ariki Park.
Rangataua made all the running in the first half, with Timoti Gardiner scoring a try and Adam McGarvey converting Gardiner's touchdown and slotting two penalty goals, to give Rangataua a 13-3 lead at the break.
Two second half tries to Te Puke winger Gideon Uelese put the defending Baywide champions back in the match, but with time running out Te Puke still trailed by one point. Right on full time a Rangataua indiscretion led to Sipa Moi Moi calmly slotting a penalty to give Te Puke Sports the victory.
Te Puna first half lapses of concentration against Opotiki at Maramatanga Park cost the home side dearly as Opotiki got home 27-21 to cement third place in the competition. Poor Te Puna tackling saw Opotiki waltz through for two tries with a third (intercept) try giving the visitors a 21-9 lead at the break. In spite of Te Puna grabbing two second half touchdowns they had to settle for just a bonus point from the encounter.
Tauranga Sports won a high-scoring encounter against Greerton Marist, running in seven tries on their way to a 53-20 victory, with Tauranga winger Phillip Togo Togo Rua grabbing a treble. Mount Maunganui returned home from Rotorua with a 22-15 win over Waikite, however the home side put together a much-improved performance.
Division One high flyers Rangiuru took their unbeaten run to 13 straight wins when they overpowered Marist St Michaels 37-12 at Centennial Park in Te Puke. The Peter Woods-coached side look a hot favourite to return to the premier ranks next season after another dominant performance.
Paroa cemented second place in the Division One title chase, with a comfortable 43-13 victory over near neighbours Whakatane Marist. Ngongotaha posted a solid 36-15 win against Te Teko who continue to slip down the standings. Kahukura won a good battle against Poroporo in the Eastern Bay getting home 29-19 while Ruatoki posted their first win of the season, sneaking home from Reporoa 8-7.
The Colts championship round kicked off, with first round winners Mount Maunganui having to battle to get home from Te Puna in the curtain raiser at Maramatanga Park. The 13-10 Mount victory reflected a match that was up for grabs throughout.
Tauranga Sports won another hard-fought contest getting home from Greerton Marist 20-15, with defending Colts champions Te Puke Sports defeating Marist St Michaels 27-19.
In the Colts second division Rangataua ran over Rotoiti 65-7, Waikite beat Whakarewarewa 39-19, with Opotiki winning a high scoring affair with Kahukura 45-34.