Bay of Plenty Steamers will end a forgettable season when they take on bottom-placed ITM Championship side Northland in Whangarei tomorrow.
The Steamers started the season with high hopes in the Premiership but a succession of losses to teams they could well have beaten has meant relegation to play the likes of Northland, Manawatu and North Harbour in 2014.
But there have been some success stories and foremost is the performance of the Bay scrum. It has been many seasons since the scrum has been this dominant and watching the Steamers demolish the highly-regarded Counties Manukau pack was a season highlight.
The front row has performed outstandingly, more so when you consider there has been no prop reserves for the past few games. Injuries have depleted the squad to the extent that the Tauranga Sports pair of Kane Hames and Pingi Tala'apitaga have been forced to play every minute and they have thrived under the workload.
Their combination with hookers Nathan Harris and Joe Royal has improved game by game to the extent that there should be interest from Super Rugby coaches.
This season has been loosehead prop Hames' first at this level and the 25-year-old has earned the respect of his opponents head to head.
For a staunch Bay of Plenty man, who went to Trident High School in Whakatane and first played for the union at under-18 level, the results have hurt but he is pleased with his own performances.
"In the pre-season I learnt not so much different lines but I learnt to work harder and get into position a little bit earlier, which is something I hadn't necessarily done before. But I am quite a visual learner so when I saw the tapes I learnt how to do it," said Hames.
The biggest decision Hames had to make was to sacrifice the job he loves with the Bay of Plenty union as a rugby development officer coaching school kids.
He was in the role five years but could not play for the Steamers and keep the job.
"I had to pick between either or because you can't really do both. It was a big risk because it was a big drop in pay and security. I took a step back and had the belief that I could do it and made the decision.
"I love working in the role and working with the kids. I have coached Te Aihe [Toma] and Elijah [Nicholas] and have been involved with the Bay for a long time. The jersey means something special to me."
There is one other jersey Hames would love to wear this year.
He has a burning goal to play for the Maori All Blacks on their northern tour, preferably under the captaincy of Steamers flanker Tanerau Latimer.
Tomorrow, 5.35pm at Toll Stadium, Whangarei.
Played: 54, 1950-2012;
Northland wins: 31; Bay of
Plenty wins: 22; Draws: 1.
Last match: Bay of Plenty 31 Northland 19, 30.09.12 in Mt Maunganui (ITMC).
Last Northland win: Northland 31 Bay of Plenty 24, 21.10.10 in Whangarei (ITMC).
Biggest Northland score: 49 (49-23), 28.09.02 in Whangarei (NPC).
Biggest Bay of Plenty score: 51 (51-3), 08.10.05 in Mt Maunganui (NPC).
Biggest differential: Bay of Plenty by 48 (51-3), 08.10.05 in Mt Maunganui (NPC).
1 Kane Hames, 2 Nathan Harris, 3 Pingi Tala'apitaga, 4 Culum Retallick, 5 Josh Sole, 6 Johan Bardoul, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 8 Carl Axtens, 9 Samisoni Fisilau, 10 Willie Ripia (c), 11 Kimami Sitauti, 12 Nick Evemy, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 14 Tino Nemani, 15 Elliott Hagan. Reserves: 16 Kalem Chan Boon, 17 Joe Royal, 18 Joe Tupe, 19 Beau Robinson, 20 Te Aihe Toma, 21 Dave Thomas, 22 Steve Honey.