Hawke's Bay has played four games compared to three by the others and had the benefit of Otago missing a last-minute conversion to claim their win in Napier.
The surprise of the weekend was provided by Northland when beating previously unbeaten Tasman 32-5.
Wellington retained the Ranfurly Shield ahead of Wednesday's challenge from Tasman when beating Southland 39-17 at Lower Hutt.
Highlights from the weekend's games were (note: Hawke's Bay v Waikato was the final game of round two, played on Wednesday):
Centre Bailyn Sullivan got Waikato on the move when cutting through to maximise advantage after a driving breakthrough by hooker Rhys Marshall to score. Hawke's Bay battled to respond until Sullivan's long kick was fielded by fullback Caleb Makene who charged into the line to set up a ruck which allowed halfback Brad Weber to feed the blind where wing Paula Balekana bumped his way down the line to link with centre Nick Grigg who then fed infield for Weber to complete the try. First five-eighths Taha Kamara's set-up play created space for fullback Liam Coombes-Fabling to score, which was complemented by second five-eighths Austin Anderson getting across for Waikato to turn 22-7 up.
Hawke's Bay started the second half when No8 Marino Mikaele-Tu'u took advantage of Grigg's diversion to run in under the posts. Still, any hard luck Waikato may have felt was only momentary as Anderson twice handled in a move that saw Marshall score out wide to be followed soon after by wing Cody Nordstrom. That should have been enough, but Hawke's Bay had other ideas. Replacement prop Tim Farrell got the ball rolling with a 67th-minute try before fellow replacement halfback Folau Fakatava created an opening that saw replacement back Harry Godfrey burst out of a ruck with a kick ahead which rebounded off a defender and saw him in for the try. That was enough for Hawke's Bay to launch a quick throw from a Waikato clearing kick. Replacement wing Anzelo Tuitavuki charged onto the ball and sped towards the line. When finally checked, Farrell was on hand to score his second and give Hawke's Bay the win.
Hawke's Bay 35 (Brad Weber, Marino Makaele-Tu'u, Tim Farrell 2, Harry Godfrey tries; Lincoln McClutchie 5 con) Waikato 32 (Bailyn Sullivan, Liam Coombes-Fabling, Austin Anderson, Rhys Marshall, Cody Nordstrom tries; Taha Kemara 2 con, pen). HT: 7-22
A superb backline incursion executed on the right flank by left-wing Etene Nanai-Seturo fed Counties Manukau's first scoring act within the first minute against Bay of Plenty at Navigation Homes Stadium in Pukekohe. He passed to right-wing Toni Pulu, who turned infield before lobbing a pass to prop Kauvaka Kaiveleta, who powered his way to score. Bay of Plenty replied through fullback Cole Forbes benefiting from an undetected blocking action inside to race through a hole to score. But a lineout move saw hooker Ian West-Stevens wrap around to take the ball and feed inside to Pulu, who set up a goal-line ruck for flanker Sam Tuifua to cross. A penalty try resulting from a downed maul saw Counties Manukau out to a 19-7 lead before 10 minutes had elapsed.
Lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi was sin-binned, and the home team took full advantage with lock James Thompson charging into the 22m area and then Nanai-Seturo firing a long pass to home first five-eighths Riley Hohepa who went over for the easiest of tries in the 12th minute. Bay of Plenty hooker Kurt Eklund got one back before halftime. Then flanker Semisi Paea went over from a lineout drive three minutes into the second half but apart from a Hohepa penalty goal, that was all the scoring in the remainder of the game.
Counties Manukau 32 (Kauvaka Kaivelata, Sam Tuifua, Riley Hohepa tries; Penalty try; Hohepa 2 con, 2 pen) Bay of Plenty 19 (Cole Forbes, Kurt Eklund, Semisi Paea tries; Lucas Cashmore 2 con). HT: 29-14
Quick thinking by Auckland halfback Kalani Thomas in taking a tap penalty out from the North Harbour line negated two early penalty goals by the home team at Onewa Domain as he scored by the posts into a stiff breeze. It was almost twice as bad when wing Salesi Rayasi intercepted and ran 60m before wing Kade Banks pulled him down. But in the resulting play, first five-eighths Zarn Sullivan showed his stepping skill from a ruck to score between the posts. A lovely interplay between Rayasi and fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck provided the prelude to the ball moving to the opposite wing, with Rayasi featuring twice to put AJ Lam over.
Auckland made North Harbour pay for a goal-line fumble by second five-eighths Henry Taefu when from the resulting scrum, Taefu's marker Harry Plummer went over for a try. Respite finally came for the home team from a tap penalty move five metres from the line, with flanker Wallace Setiti tapping and fooling the defenders with a dummy move to score. That was followed by wing Danyon Morgan-Puterangi, who held onto fullback Shaun Stevenson's long pass to his wing to score. But that was close as they got after Sullivan swooped on a dropped ball to dive over for his second. Thirty seconds short of full-time Morgan-Puterangi scored his second after a cross-kick from first five-eighths Oscar Koller. But with injury time, North Harbour tried to run the ball from their line, only for replacement Caleb Tangitau to pick off an intercept to score.
North Harbour 23 (Wallace Sititi, Danyon Morgan-Puterangi 2 tries; Oscar Koller con, 2 pen) Auckland 43 (Kalani Thomas, Zarn Sullivan 2, AJ Lam, Harry Plummer, Caleb Tangitau tries; Sullivan 5 con, pen). HT: 6-22
Turnover ball proved costly for Southland in their Ranfurly Shield challenge at the Hutt Recreation Ground. Having seen the ball held up over the line from a likely-looking lineout move, Southland then saw flanker Kirifi Du'Plessis' midfield turnover allow Wellington to use the short side to put wing Pepesana Patafilo into space, and his speed did the rest. However, back in the scoring zone, Southland unleashed a superb scrum for replacement Semisi Tupou Ta'eiloa to take the ball and score. Wellington roared back onto the attack, and from a tap penalty lock, Caleb Delany charged through a gap to lead 17-7 at halftime.
Southland couldn't control another strong scrum out from its line, and from a ruck set-up, second five-eighths Riley Higgins crossed out wide. That opened the scoring floodgates with flanker Dominic Ropeti making up for his first-half sin-binning by extending the lead to 29-7, followed in short order by wing Conor Garden-Bachop who controlled the ball in the in-goal to score a spectacular try. Not to be outdone, Southland unleashed their earlier lineout move more effectively, and flanker Leroy Ferguson scored. Wing Gabriel Hamer-Webb capped an effective break by second five-eighths Matt Whaangaa to score a third try. In injury time, Wellington finished it with replacement hooker Josh Southall scoring.
Wellington 39 (Pepesana Patafilo, Caleb Delany, Riley Higgins, Dominic Ropeti, Conor Garden-Bachop, Josh Southall tries; Tjay Clarke 3 con, pen) Southland 17 (Semisi Tupou Ta'eiloa, Leroy Ferguson, Gabriel Hamer-Webb tries; Greg Dyer con). HT: 17-7
Times were that Manawatū teams had the wood over Canterbury, but that wasn't the case this time around in Christchurch. The visitors did open the scoring when halfback Jordi Viljoen crossed for a try. Still, Canterbury hit back, first through first five-eighths Fergus Burke splitting the defence 22m out and running in to be followed by halfback Mitch Drummond after a decisive run by Manasa Mataele, who had his reward soon after a break by centre Dallas McLeod set up a try chance which Mataele took.
Turning at 28-5 up, Canterbury unleashed with Drummond and Mataele scoring their second tries and wing Blair Murray utilising some lovely passing skills from Drummond to score with second five-eighths Rameka Pohipi (twice), replacement flanker Corey Kellow and fullback Chay Fihaki completing the 10-try effort. Manawatū did their bit to contribute to the lively second small, with lock Johan Morrison, centre Kyle Brown and replacement hooker Raymond Tuputupu lifting them to 26 points.
Canterbury 68 (Fergus Burke, Mitch Drummond 2, Manasa Mataele 2, Blair Murray, Rameka Pohipi 2, Corey Kellow, Chay Fihaki tries; Burke 6 con; Alex Harford 3 con) Manawatū 26 (Jordi Viljoen, Johan Morrison, Kyle Brown, Raymond Tuputupu tries; Brent Cameron 2 con; Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula con). HT: 28-5
Northland wing Heremaia Murray shapes as one of the more dangerous performers in the Bunnings Warehouse Cup and made his mark with the opening try against Tasman in Whangarēi. Tasman's response was a driving lineout maul try for hooker Quentin MacDonald – but that was to be their lot on the night. Lock Liam Hallam-Eames capped some quick-thinking by fullback Josh Moorby to score, while Tasman was lucky an intercept by second five-eighths Blake Hohaia almost resulted in another before the break, which saw Northland up 15-5.
A broken play turnover for Northland saw first five-eighths Rivez Reihana take on the line and then pass outside to Murray, who stormed off his wing with too much speed to score his second try. Northland's defence was a crucial asset throughout. When they managed to get back onto the attack, replacement hooker Matt Moulds completed the scoring and left Tasman with plenty to think about ahead of their Wednesday Ranfurly Shield challenge.
Northland 32 (Heremaia Murray 2, Liam Hallam-Eames, Matt Moulds tries; Rivez Reihana 2 con, 2 pen; Dan Hawkins con) Tasman 5 (Quentin MacDonald try). HT: 15-5
Benefiting from a come-from-behind win earlier in the week, Hawke's Bay was required to show it could cope with a fast-finishing Otago before claiming a win in Napier. Chip and chase skills executed by No8 Devan Flanders opened the try-scoring for the home team. Otago responded in kind with wing Jona Nareki's kick contested on the goal line before it was moved to the short side for No8 Christian Lio-Willie to score. The visitors went further ahead when wing Josh Whaanga flew onto a pass from fullback Sam Gilbert to score. Flanders was in the action to find fullback Chase Tiatia to see him over the line. A superb 50:22 kick by Fakatava set up a lineout drive. An infringement saw hooker Henry Bell yellow-carded, and from a scrum flanker, Sam Smith was on to take a ball from Fakatava to score while soon after, centre Ollie Sapsford took them to a 26-12 lead at the turn.
Otago started the half with a lineout move that saw Saula Ma'u score before a dropped ball saw wing Anzelo Tuitavuki eat up the metres unchallenged before finding Sapsford in support inside to score his second try. Replacement wing Jeremiah Asi's try pulled the margin back for Otago. Then after being clattered in a late charge that saw replacement loose forward Patrick Tuifua sin-binned, replacement fullback Finn Hurley landed a penalty goal. In a last-minute breakout move, Hurley kicked deep, and when Hawke's Bay couldn't cover the ball, second five-eighths Jack Leslie was on hand to touch the ball down. However, Hurley kicking from the sideline couldn't swing the conversion to give Otago the win.
Hawke's Bay 33 (Devan Flanders 2, Chase Tiatia, Sam Smith, Ollie Sapsford tries; Lincoln McClutchie 4 con) Otago 32 (Christian Lio-Willie, Josh Whaanga, Saula Ma'u, Jeremiah Asi, Jack Leslie tries; Sam Gilbert con; Finn Hurley con, pen). HT: 26-12
Two first-half tries to wing Kini Naholo gave Taranaki the advantage of a 12-5 lead at the turn in Hamilton which proved a fair reflection of their dominance. However, Waikato scored first 14 minutes into the second half through wing Daniel Sinkinson to be only two points behind. But then two tries within five minutes for Taranaki's replacement halfback Adam Lennox, despite a sin-binning of flanker Tom Florence saw it claim the momentum.
That was rewarded when replacement fullback Matt McKenzie was in hand to support a break by Stephen Perofeta to cross with two minutes left. In injury time, Waikato got one back for the home team but it was all too little, too late.
Waikato 17 (George Dyer, Daniel Sinkinson, Patrick McCurran tries; Tepaea Cook-Savage con) Taranaki 29 (Kini Naholo 2, Adam Lennox 2, Matt McKenzie tries; Jayson Potroz 2 con). HT: 5-12
NOTE: Wellington host Tasman in the final game of round three at 7.05pm on Wednesday 23 August at Sky Stadium with the Ranfurly Shield on the line.