Taranaki, the second-placed qualifier, was too strong for third-placed Canterbury, while fourth-placed Hawke's Bay took their chances with a final scoreline that flattered the defending champions.
Taranaki's pack laid an uncompromising platform, sometimes punishing Canterbury's scrum to take the play to the visitors, who paid the price for ruck infringements, especially as six penalty goals were landed against them.
Hawke's Bay found second five-eighths Chase Tiatia in a hungry mood against the side he made his first-class debut for and finished with a hat-trick of tries.
Leading points scorers:
Lincoln McClutchie (Hawke's Bay) 123
Fergus Burke (Canterbury) 109
Aidan Morgan (Wellington) 100
Zarn Sullivan (Auckland) 91
Leading try scorers:
Manaaki Selby-Rickit (Bay of Plenty) 9
Heremaia Murray (Northland) 8
Chase Tiatia (Hawke's Bay) 7
Losilosivale Filipo (Wellington) 7
Taranaki 23 Canterbury 16
Undeterred by two penalty goals landed by Canterbury's first five-eighths Alex Harford in the first 10 minutes, Taranaki, with a penalty goal of its own, bided its time until 13 minutes into the game when halfback Adam Lennox stepped up the attacking pressure. He was twice involved in a move when first five-eighths Josh Jacomb could slip a short pass to hooker Brad Slater who found prop Jared Proffit in support. Proffit then had Lennox in free space outside him, and he fed him in for a try. Penalty goals were exchanged before Taranaki went to the halftime break leading 11-9.
An early break around a ruck by wing Kini Naholo saw Lennox heading for the goalline again, only to be tackled, but Canterbury infringed, and Jacomb landed another penalty goal. Six minutes later, Canterbury's indiscipline around the ruck resulted in another penalty chance that Jacomb converted. Up 17-9, Taranaki's defence was put to the test in an 18-phase sequence, which brought reward after No8 Billy Harmon punched through in midfield to pass off to second-eighths Rameka Poihipi to score. Leading 17-16, Taranaki moved fullback Stephen Perofeta up to first five-eighths, which livened the final quarter. He took over the goal-kicking duties, landing two penalty goals; the second two minutes from time from 45 metres gave the home side a seven-point margin they were able to hold onto.
Taranaki 23 ( Adam Lennox try; Josh Jacomb 4 pen; Stephen Perofeta 2 pen) Canterbury 16 (Rameka Pohipi try; Alex Harford con, 3 pen). HT: 11-9.
Wellington 24 Hawke's Bay 25
Peripatetic Hawke's Bay second five-eighths Chase Tiatia has found a happy place after stints with Wellington and the Bay of Plenty in NPC rugby and the Chiefs, Hurricanes and Western Force, and celebrated that, and his 28th birthday, with a hat-trick of tries in a semifinal victory that gives his side the chance to end the season with the Ranfurly Shield and the national title. Their weekend visit to New Plymouth to play Taranaki is their first NPC final. Having just lost flanker Brad Shields to a yellow card for a head-on-head tackle, Wellington then paid the price for failing to hold Tiatia in a tackle, and he got up and ran over for his first try in the 22nd minute. Two minutes from the break, the ball was ripped in a tackle and dropped at the feet of No8 Devan Flanders, who flung it to Tiatia, who ran 50m down the sideline for his second.
Centre Billy Proctor capped a promising Wellington back movement that went 60m with a try. A long-range kick by fullback Ruben Love went directly to touch, and in the resulting play, the Bay forwards and halfback Folau Fakatava took the ball to the goalmouth and then close to the ruck, Tiatia got a short ball and went over by the posts. Down 10-25 with two minutes to play, a yellow card to replacement Sam Wye saw Dominic Ropeti score. But Wellington was not done and finished with a try for wing Riley Higgins four minutes into injury time.
Wellington 24 (Billy Proctor, Dominic Ropeti, Riley Higgins tries; Aidan Morgan con, pen; Ruben Love 2 con) Hawke's Bay 25 (Chase Tiatia 3 tries; Lincoln McClutchie 2 con, 2 pen). HT: 3-18