People queued for hours throughout the United States yesterday as they chased the winning $970 million powerball ticket.

One would have thought Hawke's Bay Magpies' outside back Sam McNicol had already won it. Such was the magnitude of his grin as he arrived at the team's Captain's Run in Napier yesterday before they departed to Rotorua for tonight's Mitre 10 Cup Championship second round clash against the Bay of Plenty Steamers at the International Stadium.

It was easy to appreciate McNicol's delight. After missing all of last season with his concussion issues tonight's match will be his first for the Magpies since signing with the team in 2015.

"About time. I've had a couple of injury-riddled years. Hopefully I can string a few games together and do the jersey a bit of justice," McNicol said.

Advertisement

McNicol, 21, missed the Magpies' August 16 launch because he was in Auckland where he had five hours of extensive testing with a neurologist. The 2013 New Zealand Secondary Schools rep had a follow-up session in Auckland on Monday and it was there he heard the words he had been waiting for since turning out for the Chiefs against the Crusaders in Suva on May 19, the last of his six Super outings this year ... "you're cleared to play."

"I've been through some pretty testing times. Once you've had concussion a couple of times it tests your resilience," former Wellington Lions player McNicol said.

"I was fortunate at the Chiefs to be able to receive plenty of good advice from the likes of Charlie Ngatai and Stephen Donald who had a few episodes. There were days when you didn't feel that flash and days when you felt good. It was just a matter of being patient.
"Footy isn't the end of the world. Your health has to be first and foremost and you have to give it the best chance," McNicol explained.

"My tests have improved by 35 per cent since February and the neurologists couldn't be happier."

McNicol is impressed with new Magpies backs coach Mark Ozich.

"All the boys are buying into what he brings ... it's important we try and get back into the Premiership."

McNicol replaces the injured Mason Emerson on the left wing tonight.

"I don't mind what position I play ... I'm just happy to get back out on the paddock."

Like his teammates, McNicol, has done plenty of homework on the Steamers.

"They're big up front and they've got elusive backs out wide. It's important we shut down those guys."

Magpies head coach Craig Philpott has set several work-ons for the Magpies after their 24-16 win against Southland last weekend. He wants to see better ball security and more consistent phase play.

"It's important we build phase play so our outside backs can attack with some excitement and use more space."

Philpott could easily have mentioned the need to improve their kick reception as far too many turnovers were conceded under the high ball against the Stags and he could have stressed the need to sharpen up their defence after 26 tackles were missed against the Southland.

Although the Steamers were beaten 28-23 by Northland last weekend the Magpies would be foolish to take their hosts lightly tonight. Bay of Plenty will be eager to record their first win of the season in their first outing on home soil this year and of course the "Battle of the Bays" fixture always brings the best out of the Steamers.

Both teams will be all out to become the inaugural holders of the MacRae-Shelford Bay Cup which is named after two former All Blacks who have played for both unions. Philpott said Maori All Black and Hurricanes prop Ben May would miss the game with an injury collected at training on Wednesday. New Hurricanes loosie Gareth Evans has recovered from his thigh injury but Philpott does not want to risk him and said Evans would benefit from another week's rest before the Magpies host Canterbury.

In other changes to the starting XV used against the Stags world champion Baby Black Pouri Rakete-Stones replaces Mason Kean at tighthead prop, new Waratah Nick Palmer replaces Geoff Cridge at lock, Cridge replaces Marino Mikaele-Tu'u at blindside flanker, Mikaele-Tu'u replaces Evans at No 8 and Fa'alemiga Selesele replaces Tony Lamborn at openside flanker. Newcomers to the Magpies subs bench are the Hawke's Bay Saracens pair of lock Josh Eden-Whaitiri and flanker Ben Hamelink who were both Magpies last year.