Rugby: Hika the left hooker eyes shot at big Willie

By Shane Hurndell

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Something Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby hooker Hika Elliot can never be accused of is being shy at rumble time on the field.

The bigger the fight the better, as far as Elliot is concerned. So the former All Black's reply wasn't a surprise when asked yesterday who his preferred opponent was for the December 15 Woodstock Honey Fight for Life charity boxing event in Auckland that will feature some of the biggest names from rugby and league.

"Willie Mason," Elliot replied, referring to the former Kangaroos hard man and current Newcastle Knights NRL star , who is likely to get the feature bout.

"Troy [former All Blacks hard man Flavell] will probably get Willie, but I'm happy to get in the ring with any of the league boys ... it's for an awesome cause," Elliot said acknowledging the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

It's a big call, considering Elliot's boxing experiencing is "nil" and he will concede 11cm in height and at least two kilograms in weight should he take on Mason.

"When my agent was contacted by the Fight for Life organiser Dean Lonergan to check on my availability for the event I told him make it happen.

"I can't wait and I've been training for up to two hours four times a week for the past couple of weeks," Elliot said.

In 2008 Elliot, 26, qualified for the world karate championships in Japan. A black-beltholder in karate, Elliot hasn't fought in a karate tournament since 2008 but pointed out his karate and mixed martial arts training had proved beneficial during his boxing training.

Elliot (right) has yet to hear whether he will be on the All Blacks' or Maori All Blacks' tour of the United Kingdom next month but has been told by Lonergan a boxing trainer will be arranged for him while on tour.

"Depending on which tour I get, I will have either 12 or 14 days after returning home to complete my build-up for Auckland. By then I will know who my opponent will be," Elliot said.

Elliot's bout is scheduled for three two-minute rounds.

With Elliot and Flavell, Blues outside back Rene Ranger and former All Black and Fight for Life veteran Carlos Spencer will represent the rugby ranks at The Trusts Arena in Henderson. Joining Mason in the league contingent will be former Kiwis centre Jarrod McCracken and current Kangaroos and New South Wales State of Origin stars Greg Bird and Paul Gallen.

"The standard of the athletes prepared to put their bodies on the line continues to amaze me," Lonergan said.

"The fact that we have guys who played in State of Origin this year and another two who starred in Super Rugby is setting new ground for the Woodstock Honey Fight for Life.

"This event has been seen as something of a rite of passage event for former players in the past but this card proves that guys who are still at their peak in their sports want to get in on the action and do their part for the event.

"People can be pretty cynical when it comes to how they view footballers. It's events like this, though, that helps break down stereotypes of athletes being all about themselves," Lonergan said.

The charity is the significant reason for the likes of Mason and McCracken in particular to get involved.

"Whenever I hear the word 'cancer' it sets me back for a second or two," Mason said. "My father Ian fought cancer before he died in 1997. And while it wasn't from prostate cancer I think for anyone who has suffered a loss like my family did, cancer is cancer. So, when I heard the charity was a cancer awareness one the decision to get inside those ropes was an easy one."

McCracken - who played 22 tests in a career that took in stints at the Bulldogs, Eels and Tigers in the NRL - signed up after his 71-year-old father Ken was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

"My motivation is simple," McCracken said. "If I can convince blokes to go and get checked and save their kids from having to watch their father go through what the old man is going through now, then every second inside the ring would have been worth it."

For others like Elliot and Ranger the event presents an opportunity to get into peak condition as they fight to reclaim All Blacks berths.

"My Super Rugby coaches always give me heaps about making sure I turn up to pre-season in good condition," Ranger said.

"So this way I figure that not only do I get to take on a new challenge in boxing, I will also keep my coach happy by turning up to pre-season fit!

"Boxing training is so different [from] anything we actually do with rugby. It is high intensity for two minutes at a time. In rugby you are only ever really going full noise for a matter of seconds, so this will definitely help build up my base fitness.

"I also think that it will add something mentally. There is nowhere to hide ... You can't let your mates do the work for you. It is just you and your opponent."

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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