Canterbury set out for another title with the biggest win, 62-15 over Manawatū, and Auckland beat North Harbour 36-26.
However, Otago were beaten 23-22 by Counties Manukau, while Waikato played a 32-32 extra-time draw with Ranfurly Shield holders Hawke's Bay and Wellington had to settle for a 37-35 win over Bay of Plenty.
To cap it all, Northland upset last season's Championship winners Taranaki 13-11 in New Plymouth, and Southland got a loser's bonus point in their 20-27 loss to Tasman.
Manawatū 15 Canterbury 62
First five-eighths Fergus Burke's combination with halfback Mitch Drummond is a key fulcrum for Canterbury and if they continue to be provided with the quality of ball they received in Palmerston North it is going to be tough to head them in 2022. Burke scored an outstanding blindside try from 55m out, employing his speed, a bit of grunt against a defender which gave him the momentum to break free and run in the try. The pack added two quick lineout drive tries, while another gave wing George Bridge a try in the left corner for a 29-3 halftime lead.
Then, just as Manawatū looked to get close to creating a chance an intercept by right-wing Manasa Mataele, some inter-passing with centre Dallas McLeod, broke Steamers' hearts as Mataele scored. Burke, replacement back Will Gaulter, fullback Chay Fihaki and Bridge rounded out the scoring. Replacement hooker Leif Keil-Schwencke and fullback Drew Wild scored tries of such quality that Manawatū have something to build on.
Manawatū 15 (Leif Keil-Schwencke, Drew Wild tries; Brett Cameron con, pen) Canterbury 62 (Fergus Burke 2, Brodie McAlister 2, George Bridge 2, Manasa Mataele, Will Gualter, Chay Fihaki tries; Burke 4 con, pen; Alex Harford 3 con). HT: 3-29
Counties Manukau 23 Otago 22
Counties Manukau's first five-eighths Riley Hohepa's 82nd-minute dropped goal proved the match winner for Counties Manukau. The home team at Pukekohe scored 10 points in the last 15 minutes to puncture Otago's hopes after they got out to a 22-13 lead following two Jona Nareki tries in the space of seven minutes. Earlier, home hooker Zuriel Togiatama polished off a lineout maul with the opening try.
But second five-eighths Thomas Umaga-Jensen responded with the simplest of intercepts to pull back the score. However, with time running out the home pack went to work and replacement back Esau Filimoehala got over after taking Hohepa's long pass and Hohepa's sideline conversion went over, off the post. Then, demonstrating superb composure Hohepa got out of a breakdown, got back in the pocket and calmly slammed home the winner.
Counties Manukau 23 (Zuriel Togiatama, Esau Filimoehala tries; Riley Hohepa 2 con, 2 pen, dropped goal) Otago 22 (Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Jona Nareki 2 tries; Josh Ioane con, pen; Sam Gilbert con). HT: 10-7
Waikato 32 Hawke's Bay 32
Goal-kicking departed both camps in a golden point finish in Hamilton that ended unable to break the deadlock for either side. First it had been second five-eighths Danny Toala who shanked a handy conversion attempt with 10 minutes to play. It left the sides locked at 32-32. Then home first five-eighths Damian McKenzie couldn't bring a 78th minute penalty goal around. Into extra time, McKenzie looked on target only to see a penalty goal attempt drift back out to the right, and then a left-footed dropped goal attempt was wide.
It was a frantic finish to a game that produced fine tries to Bay's Isaia Walker-Leawere, halfback Brad Weber, Toala and Tom Parsons while, for Waikato, centre Bailyn Sullivan, second five-eighths D'Angelo Leuila, lock James Tucker and wing Daniel Sinkinson.
Waikato 32 (Bailyn Sullivan, D'Angelo Leuila, James Tucker, Daniel Sinkinson tries; Damian McKenzie 3 con, 2 pen) Hawke's Bay 32 (Isaia Walker-Leawere, Brad Weber, Danny Toala, Tom Parsons tries; Caleb Makene 3 con, 2 pen). HT: 24-20
Auckland 36 North Harbour 26
Down 15-26 nine minutes into the second half against a fired up North Harbour, Auckland lifted their game and produced an early claimant for try of the season courtesy of fullback Zarn Sullivan. He was at stand-off and broke two tackles, ran into space, linked with support flanker Blake Gibson, and then stayed for the return pass before breaking three more tackles to score – all from 70 metres out.
A penalty try apiece, some clever play at a lineout from North Harbour for flanker Cameron Saufoa to score, and a lovely crossfield kick from Auckland first five-eighths Harry Plummer, all contributed to a lively game that saw both sides going at it until the final whistle. But Auckland's power on the lineout maul proved decisive with two tries making life harder for the visitors.
Auckland 36 (AJ Lam, Leni Apisai, Zarn Sullivan, Soane Vikena tries; Penalty try; Harry Plummer 3 con, pen) North Harbour 26 (Henry Taefu, Cameron Suafoa, Mark Telea tries; Penalty try; Bryn Gatland 2 con). HT: 15-21
Taranaki 11 Northland 13
Nearly 20 minutes into the game, draw and pass proved its effectiveness with second five-eighths Daniel Waite scoring the first try at Pukekura Park. It looked so easy, but they were unable to repeat in the face of some determined Northland defence. They went to the turn leading 8-0 but in the second half they ran into a brick well.
Wing Pisi Leiluia was denied a try on the right flank but four minutes from the end left-wing Jone Macalai-Tori was unchallenged in scoring to claim the lead, and replacement five-eighths Dan Hawkins proved the ace in pushing the conversion over from wide out. Taranaki had a late chance to win when they received a penalty but first five-eighths Jayson Potroz pushed the ball wide.
Taranaki 11 (Daniel Waite try, 2 pen) Northland 13 (Jone Macalai-Tori try; Rivaz Reihana pen; Dan Hawkins con). HT:8-0
Wellington 37 Bay of Plenty 35
Having wing Julian Savea cross for two tries in the first 12 minutes at SKY Stadium is never encouraging for Wellington's opponents but Bay of Plenty don't know when to give up. Lock Naitoa Ah Kuoa crossed out wide to keep the Bay in the first half hunt and, after halftime, they were rewarded with quick tries to centre Joey Walton and fullback Emoni Narawa, both the result of fine build-ups gave them a 25-20 lead.
When lock Justin Sangster followed up a few minutes later with another try, Bay of Plenty looked on target for a massive upset. But Savea and halfback TJ Perenara stepped up to give momentum for the pack to do their work, and when ball looked to be uncontrolled, lock James Blackwell secured it to score. Centre Riley Higgins got a second try after a scorching break by flanker Du'Plessis Kirifi. With the easiest of conversions by five-eighths Jackson Garden-Bachop, Wellington got home.
Wellington 37 (Julian Savea 2, Riley Higgins 2, Pepesana Patafilo, James Blackwell tries; Jackson Garden-Bachop 2 con, pen) Bay of Plenty 35 (Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Joey Walton, Emoni Narawa, Justin Sangster tries; Kaleb Trask 3 con, 3 pen). HT: 20-11
Tasman 27 Southland 20
Southland might have been hampered by cancelled flights that resulted in a four-hour delay in their start time in Blenheim but they were up for the challenge. Once Tasman scored first through lock Max Hicks, Southland responded by getting out to a 10-7 lead, thanks to a try to centre Isaac Te Tamaki in the first 10 minutes. Tasman, last year's beaten finalists, did enjoy a commanding next 15 minutes, scoring two tries to Macca Springer and Levi Aumua scoring.
But Southland upped their defensive game and for the final 50 minutes denied Tasman any more points while adding 10 of their own with flanker Grayson Knapp scoring and first five-eighths Marty Banks doing the business with the boot.
Tasman 27 (Max Hicks, Levi Aumua, Macca Springer tries; Campbell Parata 3 con, 2 pen) Southland 20 (Isaac Te Tamaki, Grayson Knapp tries; Marty Banks 2 con, 2 pen). HT: 27-10