Facing the most work to qualify are the last-placed Canterbury who suffered a rare home loss to Otago to start the round.
North Harbour beat Northland but are still only one point ahead of Canterbury with both sides wary of relegation prospects. Also sitting nervously in that vein are Bay of Plenty who are two points clear after their win over Hawke's Bay.
In the Championship, Otago are three points clear of Hawke's Bay while Northland, Taranaki, in spite of their loss to Counties Manukau, and Southland are in the hunt to complete the playoffs berths.
Week eight results were:
Canterbury v Otago
You know things are not going to well for Canterbury when it is the opposition that scores in the moments either side of halftime. That was what a defensively strong Otago team managed in Christchurch. That defence produced the first try for Otago to second five-eighths Patelesio Tomkinson, while halfback Mitch Drummond got one back soon after for Canterbury. But that set the stage three minutes later for fullback Vilimoni Koroi to take advantage of a superb backhanded off-load from No8 Nasi Manu to race ahead, put in a grubber kick, reclaim the ball and score. Canterbury replacement five-eighths Brett Cameron drew the sides level at 16-16 with a superb 45m dropped goal and a penalty goal from a similar distance. But Koroi was at it again, into the final 10 minutes when shimmying to create space on the outside for flanker Slade McFarlane to score. It was emblematic of Otago's performance that a try-saving tackle in the corner all but signalled the end of the game.
Canterbury 16 (Mitchell Drummond try; Fergus Burke pen; Brett Cameron con, pen, dropped goal) Otago 23 (Palesio Tomkinson, Vilimoni Koroi, Slade McDowall tries; Josh Ioane con, 2 pen). HT: 3-6
Wellington v Tasman
Tasman poured on the pressure in the rain at Jerry Collins Stadium in Porirua, demonstrating superb craft work with the driving lineout maul to open the try-scoring with a maul that sprinted over the line for flanker Sione Havili to claim the prize. Their second, scored by the same method, if a lot more prolonged, came in the 69th minute with blindside flanker Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta putting paid to any hope Wellington may have had of a win with the try. Tasman's set-piece was too strong, showing that it doesn't only rely on its classy backline to produce the goods. Wellington's attack couldn't pierce the Tasman defence and their only points were a solitary penalty goal landed by first five-eighths Jackson Garden-Bachop.
Wellington 3 (Jackson Garden-Bachop pen) Tasman 19 (Sione Havili, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta tries; Mitchell Hunt 3 pen). HT: 0-11
Northland v North Harbour
Misty rain in Whangarei ensured it was always going to be a battle decided by the forward packs and in that department North Harbour ruled. Their first try, nearly half an hour into the game, was scored by hooker Loteru Tolai from a lineout maul that rolled from the sideline to just beside the goalposts. Three minutes into injury time, North Harbour utilised their power again with a concerted assault ending with another of halfback Bryn Hall's long passes finding first five-eighths Bryn Gatland who pushed between closing defenders to score. Northland refused to lie down and replacement Rene Ranger got them back within touching difference when slipping a grubber kick to the in-goal where centre Scott Gregory scored. But with seven minutes left flanker Fine Inisi was on hand to pick up ball after a strong tackle and he raced 40m to win the race for the line to score.
Northland 8 (Scott Gregory try; Johnny Cooper pen) North Harbour 24 (Luteru Tolai, Bryn Gatland, Fine Inisi tries; Gatland 3 con, pen). HT: 3-14
Auckland v Waikato
Waikato have caused Auckland some issues over the years at Eden Park and it looked like more of the same when halfback Xavier Roe threw a huge dummy that opened up an even bigger gap for him to jog through to the simplest of tries. But while Auckland took time to settle, they were ready when Waikato failed to cover a grubber kick through and wing Salesi Rayasi was on hand to scoop the ball up and score. He repeated the effort five minutes later after 24 minutes from a kick through by centre Tumua Manu. Waikato were still in the hunt seven points down with eight minutes left. But then wings AJ Lam and Rayasi combined on yet another grubber kick with Lam securing the ball and having Rayasi inside him to score. Rayasi then demonstrated his kicking class by lobbing a cross-kick to Lam who took the ball and then fed flanker Sione Tuipolotu over for a deserved try to seal the win.
Auckland 31 (Salesi Rayasi 3, Sione Tuipulotu tries; Harry Plummer 3 con, pen) Waikato 10 (Xavier Roe try; Fletcher Smith con; Rivez Reihana pen). HT: 14-7
Manawatu v Southland
Looking for their first win of the season, Manawatu cashed in on a fine midfield break by second five-eighths James Tofa with lock Liam Mitchell picking up the opening try in Feilding. But halfback Logan Crowley struck back with an outstanding solo try, running around the front of a lineout and then heading infield to score by the posts. But two tries in five minutes to Manawatu's wings, Te Rangatira Waitokia, who slipped only to get up and still have the time to score, and Nigel Ah Wong, spelled the difference between the sides. Southland hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate scored from a lineout maul, but just when the southerners looked to be mounting a chance, first five-eighths Ben Wyness ripped the ball in a tackle, fell past the defence, regained his feet and slipped away like a thief in the night for an outrageous try to seal the win.
Manawatu 24 (Liam Mitchell, Te Rangatira Waitokia, Nigel Ah Wong, Ben Wyness tries; Wyness 2 con) Southland 12 (Logan Crowley, Greg Pleasants-Tate tries; Scott Eade con). HT: 17-7
Bay of Plenty v Hawke's Bay
The Ranfurly Shield holders struck in the first two minutes with wing Lolagi Visinia running onto a tactical kick at speed and was unstoppable just out from the line. However, Bay of Plenty struck back quickly with fullback Kaleb Trask fed into a gap from an offload inside and he had too much speed to be denied the try. The southerners reclaimed the lead courtesy of a defensive blank by the Bay of Plenty rearguard over a ball on the ground and when normality returned it was wing Jonah Lowe who had the try. They backed that up with a rolling maul with the inevitable try to hooker Ash Dixon. An intercept from Bay of Plenty's line saw wing Emoni Narawa run away to close the half-time gap to 15-17. Midway through the second half Hawke's Bay lost Lowe to the sin-bin for a dangerous challenge in the air and that was enough for Trask to run back on the angle in a backline move to score his second and seal the win.
Bay of Plenty 22 (Kaleb Trask 2, Emoni Narawa tries; Trask 2 con, pen) Hawke's Bay 17 (Lolaga Visinia, Jonah Lowe, Ash Dixon tries; Caleb Makene con). HT: 15-17
Taranaki v Counties Manukau
Guy Fawkes night came early in Inglewood as plenty of fireworks were unleashed in a game that took 87 minutes to be decided before Counties Manukau claimed a 31-27 win over Taranaki. In the end, two key turnovers by former All Blacks captain Kieran Read in his last game for the side proved vital in holding out a determined Taranaki bid to claim the win. But throughout the game there were moments of class from home first five-eighths Stephen Perofeta's ghosting run to score the first try, or left-wing Lewis Ormond's dive to score in the corner with only the ball, and his hand, in the field of play. Counties Manukau wing Kirisi Kuridrani wasn't to be outdone when capping a sizzling break by replacement back Etene Nanai-Seturo who then unleashed his own speed to create a sparkling demonstration of his class for the final try.
Taranaki 27 (Stephen Perofeta, Lewis Ormond, Mitchell Crosswell, Sean Wainui tries; Jayson Potroz 2 con, pen) Counties Manukau 31 (Jason Robertson, Jonathan Taumateine, Kirisi Kuridrani, Etene Nanai-Seturo tries; Robertson 4 con, pen). HT: 12-10