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11 October 2023
Counties Manukau’s last-ditch win over Canterbury last month was one of the highlights of the 2023 NPC season. Photo: Getty Images

Tony Johnson has watched enough of the NPC to make a clear judgement on this season’s standard, and what must happen next.

Despite a backdrop of massive uncertainty over its future, and talk of waning interest, this year’s Bunnings NPC has been a cracker.

Seriously, it has.

To the sceptical amongst you, the disbelievers, just try looking past the pervasive media negativity and the obsession with crowd numbers and think about what we’ve seen.

When 21-year-old Counties Manukau centre Tevita Ofa landed a sideline conversion for a massive upset win over Canterbury; it was the seventh time in six weeks that a game had been decided with the last play of the match.

Close to half of the 48 games played to that point had been decided by eight points or less. We’d had two go to golden point, and even one of those had failed to separate the teams.

Long provincial droughts had been broken, none more so than Manawatū beating Auckland for the first time since 1981, and for the first time at Eden Park since 1980.

It remains a massively important step along the pathway. Talented youngsters like Harry Godfrey, Payton Spencer and Tahlor Cahill were demonstrating All Blacks potential and, at the other end of the scale, older hands like John Afoa and Ryan Crotty were reappearing for one last season, and passing on their knowledge from long and illustrious careers in the pro ranks.

Continue this story in our October issue - out now!

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