Talk about perfect timing from Napier Old Boys Marist rugby team's lock-loosie Matt Gardner.
He produced three tries in a player-of-the-match performance for his team on Saturday to become the 17th weekly winner and establish a two-point lead on the leaderboard with one round remaining in the tussle to become this season's holder of the McDonalds-Hawke's Bay Today Club Rugby Player of the Year award. In other words his NOBM captain Chris Johnston or Ansin & Monteith Hastings Rugby and Sports loosie Fale Matamata are going to have to come up with something equally as impressive on Saturday to deny Gardner the honour.
But Gardner, 24, knows not to count his chickens. Last year he returned to the Bay with the aim of securing a Magpies Mitre 10 Cup squad berth, broke his arm in the Saracens' 59-0 loss to the Evergreens in Palmerston North on June 29 and missed the remainder of the season.
"I remember waiting in Manawatu Hospital for four days for surgery because there were so many caesarean births to be dealt with," he recalled.
Considering Gardner missed the first three weeks of Hawke's Bay Insurances Limited Napier Old Boys Marist's Nash Cup campaign this season with a knee injury, his position on the leaderboard is a tremendous feat. The former Napier Boys' High School 1st XV player is no stranger to recovering from setbacks.
He went to Palmerston North in 2012 to start a Business and Psychology Degree and crack the Turbos squad.
"I popped my shoulder in the first season so my studies became the priority. When I started playing again I wasn't playing well so I went over to England to get my confidence back up. I had a good time travelling and played for Medway in the London One competition before coming home to the Bay last year."
"If I got a Magpies contract that would be a dream come true. But club rugby has to be my main focus for now and I have to keep playing well for NOBM."
He agreed the high-tempo rugby played by the Green Machine was an advantage to him when making the transition to the Saracens team for their two games to date. Although NOBM have won their last 31 games Gardner said their head coach Craig Gowler warned it was crucial they looked no further than their next game.
"This week it's Pirates and it's do or die for them. I love playing them because they have a tough forward pack and some good backs in Hayden Hann and co out wide."
With regular lock Tom Bywater on an overseas trip former North Island age group volleyball rep Gardner will play lock in the Park Island clash.
"At 1.90m I'm the tallest person in the team. This is the first season I've played lock since my Ross Shield days ... I'll have to improve my lineout jumping. But the fact I can adapt to lock enhances my versatility and could increase my chances of making the Magpies," Gardner explained.
"It's hard to retain a loosie's spot in our team so lock gives me another chance to start," he said downplaying his value to the Maddison Trophy, Nash Cup and Challenge Shield holders.
"I'm just happy my body is strong for the first time in a long time."
A territory manager for Stowers Containment & Solutions, Gardner, said it was hard to avoid rugby talk when he visited clients.
"It's always good talking rugby ... it's the provincial language."
He only needs to keep doing what he's doing and it will just be a matter of time before clients congratulate him on Mitre 10 Cup squad selection.
Best & fairest
NOBM v Clive: 3, Matt Gardner (NOBM); 2, Johnny Lauano (NOBM); 1, Jarvy Aoake (NOBM).
Havelock North v Taradale: 3, Phil McRoberts (Havelock); 2, Kalin Paewai (Havelock); 1, Mike McLachlan (Taradale).
Tech v Central: 3, Tim Farrell (Tech); 2, Tamati Samuels (Tech); 1, Tomo Fogarty (Central).
Hastings v Pirate: 3, Paulo Nu'u (Hastings); 2, Pouri Rakete-Stones (Pirate); 1, Hayden Hann (Pirate).
MAC v Tamatea: 3, Matini Atapuna (MAC); 2, Larry Olive (MAC); 1, Jimi Harris (Tamatea).
Leaderboard: 15 points: Matt Gardner (NOBM); 13: Chris Johnston (NOBM); 12: Fale Matamata (Hastings); 10: Ricky Hayes (NOBM); 9: Tama Cahill (Pirate), Tomo Fogarty (Central), Tere Joel, Isaiah Martin, Kaleb Sweet (all Tech), Jonty Strong (Havelock); 8: Aaron McPhee (Pirate), Tamati Samuels, Ted Walters (both Tech), Kalin Paewai, Jesse Paewai (both Havelock), Andrew Gardner (Taradale).