Just a few weeks ago, Aorere College were battling to make the field for this year's NZRL National Secondary Schools Tournament.
Playing in the second tier of the Auckland competition, they lost the plate final to Southern Cross Campus and snatched the final of four qualifying spots available to Counties Manukau schools.
After two days of the national event, the Mangere outfit (2-0) have emerged as dark horses, belying their own expectations with victory over last year's runners-up, Mt Albert Grammar, and already booking their passage through to Thursday's semifinals.
Trailing 10-4 at halftime, they seized momentum in the second half, taking the lead with a field goal and clinching the 23-14 upset with two tries down the stretch.
"I'm told this is the first time we've beaten them, although we've come close in previous years," says coach Trent Silbery. "I knew we were very capable, but we just needed to play with some confidence and the right focus.
"Our big goal was to get here and now we're here, the boys are taking full advantage."
Aorere are also taking inspiration from the presence of Junior Warriors Viliami Kaveinga and Marata Niukore around their group.
Kaveinga is a former Aorere College student, who has been asked to help mentor the current crop of athletes, while Niukore has been unable to take his place on the field through commitments to the Warriors playoff bid.
"Having them around the boys and sharing their knowledge has made a big difference," says Silbery. "We've also had great leadership from our Year 13s, which has been a big influence when they take the field."