For Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby hooker Hika Elliot Saturday night's Ranfurly Shield challenge against Waikato was like a homecoming.
"This is my home away from home. I've been with the Chiefs for four years now and have had some good times here ... this just wasn't the homecoming I wanted," Elliot said after the Magpies lost the challenge 28-3 in windy and wet conditions.
The loss, which sends the Magpies back to the ITM Cup Championship after one season in the Premiership, was a sharp contrast to Elliot's last outing at Waikato Stadium on August 4 when he helped the Chiefs win the Super Rugby title and led the post-match victory haka.
"To be honest we have been way under par all season. Losing seven out of 10 games is not what I am used to. We need to go away and look at our season ... it's a case of back to the drawing board," the three-game All Black and former New Zealand Maori representative explained.
Elliot, 26, intends to stick with the Magpies and help them win promotion back to the Premiership next year.
"If Hawke's Bay wants me back I will be back next year and do whatever it takes to get the team back up to where we belong.
"I want to play 100 games for the Magpies ... while I'm bitterly disappointed with this season my heart is still with the Magpies."
Elliot, who played his 83rd match for the Magpies on Saturday, was realistic about his chances of scoring a berth in the All Blacks end-of-year tour squad.
"I'm not sure if the provincial team's season has helped my chances. But I put my best foot forward during the June series with the ABs and now it's a case of waiting to see what the selectors decide ... if it has to be a tour with the Maori team instead of the ABs then so be it," Elliot said.
He wasn't concerned with talk the Chiefs coaches were considering adding a third hooker to their roster for next season to push him and former Magpies rake and Samoa captain Mo Schwalger.
"I've been in the Chiefs environment for a while now and know what's required. More competition for berths brings out the best in you," he added.
While the Magpies displayed improvement on Saturday after their previous loss to Canterbury it was still another woeful display.
Twenty-four missed tackles is a horrible stat. Far too many soft turnovers were conceded and far too much possession was kicked away aimlessly.
Magpies coach Craig Philpott pointed out a lack of patience on attack was also a contributing factor to the loss.
"Our boys still want to do everything on the first or second carry. We had four games this season in which we didn't score a try and that's not good enough."
He said the gap between the two sides was a reflection of the quality of the competition and the number of injuries the Magpies had.
Among the players unavailable for the challenge were certain first stringers captain and No8 Mike Coman, first five-eighth Dan Waenga, prop Adrian Barone, Crusaders winger Zac Guildford, the Hurricanes pair of halfback Chris Eaton and utility back Richard Buckman and midfielder Tua Saseve.
"There's a lot of talent in Hawke's Bay. We just need more time to work with it and develop it ... the public has to be patient," Philpott stressed.
"Our players will be better next season because of their experiences this season. They now know what it takes to be competitive."
Philpott expects all of this year's Super players in his squad to gain Super contracts again but said it was unlikely there would be any new ones when the Super teams were announced on October 31.
"I'll be disappointed if Mike [Coman] doesn't get a contract as he was top of the table on a lot of statistics before his injury. Adrian [Barone] must have been in contention before his injury, too," Philpott added.
Waikato coach Chris Gibbes, who played lock for the Magpies when they were thrashed 86-0 by Waikato in their last shield challenge in Hamilton back in 1999, was proud of the grind his troops displayed against what he described as "a pretty resilient" Hawke's Bay team.
"Hawke's Bay will be back up in the Premiership. They know what they need to do ... they don't need me telling them what to do," he added before returning to a jubilant changing room.
Captain and No8 Alex Bradley, second five-eighth Jackson Willison and first five-eighth Sam Christie were among the heroes in a cohesive Waikato outfit that had no passengers. Considering the conditions fullback Trent Renata, who like the rest of Waikato's starting backs is a product of Hamilton Boys' High School, did well to land five of his seven attempts at goal.
In sharp contrast Hawke's Bay lacked the necessary cohesion and tactical nous. Elliot, fellow Chief Andrew Horrell at second five-eighth and captain and No8 Karl Lowe, had some memorable moments.
There should have been more of those and from more players. Blindside flanker Trent Boswell-Wakefield did some tremendous defensive work in the first half.