New Maori All Blacks props Kane Hames and Joe Royal have had childhood dreams come true.
The two players who made their Bay of Plenty Steamers debuts this season were named yesterday in the 26-man Maori All Blacks squad to take on Canada and the United States next month.
Unfortunately last year's captain, Bay of Plenty's Tanerau Latimer, was unavailable for the tour as he is undergoing surgery. Wellington and Hurricanes midfielder Tim Bateman will lead the team that features six former All Blacks and 11 players who played for the Maori All Blacks last year.
For 28-year-old Royal it is the highest honour he could hope for.
"At the moment I would rather play for the Maori All Blacks than the All Blacks. I know that is a big thing to say but that is how I am feeling at the moment," said Royal.
"It has been a childhood dream to play for the Maori All Blacks. I remember when they toured Aussie and the Maoris nearly beat the Australian team.
They did a documentary and my dad recorded it for me. I watched it over and over again and just wanted to play for them."
Royal spent most of the ITM Cup campaign as backup hooker and prop so the lack of game time meant he was not expecting Maori All Blacks selection this year.
"The less game time I got the hope of putting on the Maori All Blacks jersey sort of faded but I made the most of any game time and am just grateful that Herb [Schuler] gave me the opportunity to play for the Bay."
Hames made some major career sacrifices to play for the Steamers and chase his bigger goal of making the Maori All Blacks. He had to give up his beloved job coaching kids as a Rugby Development Officer with BOP Rugby but after a stellar first season in the ITM Cup he will now get to wear the black jersey.
He told the Bay of Plenty Times before the final Steamers game of his desire to step up.
"I really am looking forward to hopefully being a Maori All Black," Hames said. "That is a goal I set at the beginning of the year without any real reason of setting it, if that makes sense. I wasn't even established in the ITM Cup but every goal I write down I seem to achieve so I am hoping I get that one."
Other players selected with connections to the Bay of Plenty are former Tauranga Boys' College First XV loose forwards Luke Braid and Jared Hoeata.