Don't be surprised if Havelock North winger Mikey Vuicakau is a bolter when the Hawke's Bay Magpies ITM Cup squad is announced this afternoon.
The 25-year-old Fijian flyer who boasts a smile bigger than the one Penikolo Latu sported when called into the Magpies towards the end of last year's ITM Cup, has had an impressive pre-season campaign with the Magpies. He scored two tries in last week's win against Taranaki and his enthusiasm levels at squad trainings to date have been first class.
A 2011 Wairarapa Bush representative, Vuicakau, arrived in the Bay last year with the aim of playing Sevens for Havelock North and Hawke's Bay.
"It would be good to make the Magpies at some stage too," Vuicakau said at the time.
With eight tries for Havelock North this season before being called out of club rugby for Magpies training squad commitments Vuicakau's intention to add to his seven first class fixtures for Wairarapa Bush with the Magpies was obvious. A nationally ranked decathlete in Fiji before moving to New Zealand in 2011, Vuicakau, is capable of turning on razzle dazzle similar to what Fiji Sevens legend Waisale Serevi did when he was in his prime a decade or so ago.
"Serevi was my hero ... he coached me back home in Sevens," Vuicakau replied last year when quizzed on the comparison between himself and Serevi.
Yours truly is predicting Vuicakau to be one of 15 players named in the squad this afternoon who have yet to play first class rugby for the Magpies. Vuicakau's clubmates, outside back Trinity Spooner-Neera and flanker Tony Lamborn, All Black and Hurricanes prop Ben Franks, Rebels hooker Ged Robinson, Force halfback Alby Mathewson, Blues flanker Brendon O'Connor, Crusaders winger Telusa Veainu, the Napier Old Boys Marist pair of lock-loosie Mark Abbott and first five Regis Lespinas, Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports lock Michael Allardice, Clive No 8 Mark Atkins, MAC hooker Jesse MacDonald, former London Irish prop Max Lahiff and former Taranaki prop Willie Ioane are the others.
With Chiefs utility back Andrew Horrell likely to be on the injury list for some time with a knee issue, Spooner-Neera's brother Bronson Neera may get the opportunity to add to his two 2012 first class outings. Should the brothers get on the paddock together it will be the first time since their Havelock clubmates the Paewai brothers, Murdoch and Nathan, and the Halford brothers, Greg and Simon, made Magpies appearances together in the mid 1990s that brothers have played first class rugby for the Bay.
At a Magpies sponsors' function on Wednesday night Magpies head coach Craig Philpott mentioned captain Mike Coman is likely to be seen in a different position this season but didn't reveal which one. However it won't be a surprise if he plays more at blindside flanker than his regular role of No 8 if Atkins, a son of former Canterbury No 8 Dale Atkins, continues his outstanding pre-season form.
While Philpott and his assistant Danny Lee only named two hookers last year, your's truly is predicting MacDonald will get the nod alongside Robinson and Hurricanes rake Ash Dixon because Robinson and Dixon had a lot of game time during the Super season and will need a breather at some stage during the cup. With All Black Ben Franks unlikely to be seen for more than one outing and Crusaders wider training group prop Adrian Barone on the injured list until September your's truly is expecting six props to be named.
Pre-season form suggests Abbott and Allardice will be the starting locks and the 2.07m South African Johan Schoonbee and Tom Parsons their deputies. Philpott and Lee will have plenty of depth in the loose forward department with the likes of Atkins, Coman, O'Connor, Hurricanes openside Karl Lowe, former New Zealand U20s blindside Trent Boswell-Wakefield and Lamborn.
With Mathewson and former Hurricanes halfback Chris Eaton battling for the starting No 9 role, the likes of Veainu, former All Black Zac Guildford, New Zealand U20 rep Latu and Vuicakau battling for wing berths there is also plenty of depth out wide.
If your's truly's picks are the same as Philpott and Lee there's no reason why the Magpies can't win the championship in 2013 and return to the premiership ... where they belong.
Ash Dixon, Ged Robinson, Jesse MacDonald, Adrian Barone, Ben Franks, Jody Allen, Brendon Edmonds, Willie Ioane, Max Lahiff, Michael Allardice, Mark Abbott, Johan Schoonbee, Tom Parsons, Trent Boswell-Wakefield, Mike Coman (captain), Karl Lowe, Brendon O'Connor, Mark Atkins, Tony Lamborn.
Alby Mathewson, Chris Eaton, Ihaia West, Regis Lespinas, Andrew Horrell, Adam Bradey, Richard Buckman, Bronson Neera, Trinity Spooner-Neera, Penikolo Latu, Telusa Veainu, Zac Guildford, Mikey Vuicakau, Gillies Kaka, Israel Dagg.