Last year's Mitre 10 Cup runners-up Auckland suffered a second straight defeat on Sunday in dramatic fashion as Augustine Pulu's last-gasp try gave Counties Manukau a 30-26 win.
Tries from Viliame Rarasea and Gafatasi Su'a helped Counties Manukau to a 15-6 half-time lead.
Siona Fifita crossed in the 52nd minute for Counties Manukau's third try but hosts Auckland trailed by just a one-point margin with 14 minutes left as they cut the gap to 20-19.
Greg Pleasants-Tate responded to Fifita's score and Simon Hickey - having converted a 48th-minute penalty - added his fourth three-pointer with 14 minutes left.
Piers Francis' penalty stemmed the tide for Counties Manukau but Auckland then looked to have completed the comeback when Latiume Fosita went over five minutes from time and Hickey converted to make it 26-23.
But half-back Pulu burst round the blindside of a scrum from 22 metres out to cross for the decisive try in the 78th minute.
Taranaki missed out on the chance to move level with defending champions Canterbury at the top of the Championship Division as they were held to a 20-20 draw by Waikato.
Tries either side of half-time from Sevu Reece put Waikato 12-8 ahead but a double from Toa Halafihi double gave Taranaki an eight-point lead with 20 minutes left.
But Tyler Campbell cut the gap to three points before Sam Christie knocked over a 73rd-minute penalty to ensure the spoils were shared.