Sportal.co.nz 29.Aug.2010Getty Images
A substitution of North Harbour second five-eighths Brendon Watt 28 minutes into the game forced McAlister out one position to accommodate replacement Mike Harris.
But in the meantime it was Delany, back for his first game after a shoulder reconstruction forced during the Super 14, who reminded All Blacks coach Graham Henry, who was in attendance, that he was still worth consideration in the future.
After missing his first three kicks, Delany landed a penalty goal and three conversions for nine points while Masaga touched down for a hat-trick of tries in a performance which revitalised a team that had been lacklustre in the four earlier rounds of the competition.
The game had a delayed start after one of the crossbars fell off the goalposts, hitting reserve prop Matt Luamanu on his head. Officials worked quickly to tape the crossbar in place. Then at halftime referee Shaun Elliott wasn't able to continue due to a calf injury and Bryce Lawrence took over the duties.
North Harbour had an early chance when halfback Chris Smylie broke sharply from a tap penalty but despite making 40m he wasn't able to find any team-mates in support.
Bay of Plenty was able to save and when getting back downfield a North Harbour infringement allowed Delany his first shot at goal in the ITM Cup. But he was just wide.
After 14 minutes second five-eighths Phil Burleigh capitalised on a good pass from Delany following good work on the drive by prop James McGougan to open up the North Harbour midfield defence to cross for the first try.
In the 19th minute, centre Brett Mather opened a gap on the right and then the ball was moved to the left with flanker Tanerau Latimer carrying the ball up and getting it to fellow flanker Luke Braid who wasn't held when grounded short of the line and he got over the line for the try.
North Harbour's response was almost instantaneous with McAlister making ground off some speedy passing from the base of the rucks by Smylie. McAlister was driven ahead and the ball freed for the backs to work one way and then another before centre Jack Tarrant was able to get through the reduced midfield traffic to score.
Delany, at his fourth attempt, finally got points on the board with a 25th minute penalty goal.
There was a high attrition rate in the game with Masaga and North Harbour prop Ben Afeaki both suffering heavy blows that held up play while Bay lock Luke Andrews left the field after 28 minutes with concussion.
Lance MacDonald scored a superb try in the 29th minute after a scything break by Mather after a wrap around, good support play from Braid while Burleigh's pass opened the line for MacDonald to dive in.
Moments after receiving medical treatment, McAlister made a superb break which set in train a series of breaks, spearheaded by fullback Jack McPhee and prop Ben Afeaki before lock Anthony Boric completed the move with a fine try.
North Harbour got right into the game after the halftime resumption when hooker James Parsons crossed for his personal reward for a hard-working day. His fifth minute try resulted after a midfield bust by flanker Tom Chamberlain deep into the Bay of Plenty 22m area.
The ball was won and McAlister lofted a league-like chip to the corner where replacement wing Nafi Tuitavake batted the ball down for fast-following Parsons to score. Harris landed the conversion to get the game back to 20-19.
But in another example of the constantly changing fortunes in the game, Bay stormed back onto attack and dragged in the North Harbour defence for No.8 Colin Bourke to feed Masaga into space for the try.
Harris cut the margin back to three with a penalty goal in the 51st minute.
Masaga was in eight minutes later after halfback Taniela Moa opted to take a tap penalty close to the line. The ruck was set up and then moved to the right where Masaga went through for Delany to add the conversion.
Bay put the result beyond doubt in the 65th minute when capitalising on a midfield turnover. Masaga received the ball on the flank and kicked ahead. Burleigh then speculated a kick infield and Masaga put his speed to use to complete his hat-trick of tries.
Reward in the shape of a four-try bonus point came in the 77th minute for North Harbour when Tuitavake burst through tacklers to score a well-taken try.
Bay of Plenty 39 (Phil Burleigh, Luke Braid, Lance MacDonald, Lelia Masaga 3 tries; Mike Delany 3 con, pen) North Harbour 29 (Jack Tarrant, Anthony Boric, James Parsons, Nafi Tuitavake tries; Luke McAlister con, Mike Harris 2 con, pen). HT: 20-12