Try telling Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby winger Mason Emerson their Mitre 10 Cup Championship semifinal hopes are gone and he will ignore you.

"We could have seven or five games left and I'm ready and pretty excited about it," Emerson said.

Tomorrow's sixth-round clash against the Counties-Manukau Steelers in Pukekohe will be his first outing since leaving the field 10 minutes into the first-round 24-16 win against Southland at Napier's McLean Park on August 19 with an ankle injury. That has been the Magpies' only win this season.

"I'm a proud Hawke's Bay man and, like my teammates, I want to make our region proud of us again. Yes, our pride has been hurt but there has been no lack of effort at training and it is now time to do the job.

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"We know we have the capabilities. It's just those 1 per centers which can make so much of a difference which have been letting us down. Yes, it is a bit late but it is not too late for us," Emerson said.

Ironically Emerson gets an opportunity because Chiefs outside back Sam McNicol, who was starting to return to top form after a lengthy spell with concussion, collected a rib injury last week. The pair have been teammates and rivals for positions since they played together in the 2011 Hawke's Bay under-16 team.

"Sam has played a lot of high-level rugby and I find the tips he gives me very useful," Emerson said.

When Emerson, 21, who has played 17 first-class games for the Magpies since his 2015 debut, had his first contact session this week he had a scare with a slight twist of the ankle.

"It feels good. It's not 100 per cent but this has been the best week to come back ... I've got until Sunday.

"I know I could only have five games left and I want to play to the best of my ability. It's important I take things week by week after the injury and if either Super Rugby selection or New Zealand Sevens training squad selection comes I'll be happy."

He quashed rumours which suggested he could be looking at a move to France.

"There were rumours at the start of the season but that is something I won't look at for a long time as I still have a long time left in the Hawke's Bay jersey."

Emerson agreed the Magpies' defensive work will have to improve if they are going to get the better of a a big and physical Steelers outfit. Their missed tackle counts in recent games, 37 against Otago, 39 against Wellington and 27 against Canterbury, have been too high.

"It's important we take the high level of intensity we've been putting in at trainings into the game. We have to maintain it too. How we played for the first 40 against Canterbury has to be kept for the full 80 against the Steelers.

"They will be hurting after their 78-5 loss to Canterbury on Wednesday night. This is a big game for both teams."

Emerson didn't have a preference in terms of the Steeler he wanted to mark and the hosts hadn't announced their team last night.

"I just need to focus on my game and do the things I can control," he added.

Emerson's return is one of eight changes Magpies head coach Craig Philpott has made to the starting XV used in last weekend's 64-21 loss to Otago. Captain Ash Dixon returns from his hip injury, collected in the September 1 loss to Canterbury, and replaces Jorian Tangaere at hooker, lock Geoff Cridge has recovered from his concussion issues and replaces Josh Eden-Whaitiri, Tony Lamborn has recovered from his shoulder injury and replaces Lucas Goodin at blindside flanker, Ihaia West has replaced Richard Buckman at fullback, Buckman replaces Cardiff Vaega at second five-eighth and Jonah Lowe and Hayden Hann swap their respective 14 and 13 jerseys.

Philpott said world champion Baby Black Tiaan Falcon was disappointed in his display against Otago which saw him replaced after 20 minutes by Saracens squad member Dan Snee and he gets the opportunity to show he has improved and still has the ability to run the show.

He pointed out Dixon got through his first full contact session on Wednesday and led the way from then on.

Should world champion Baby Blacks prop Tim Farrell get game time off the bench it will be his first first-class outing for the Magpies. The son of former Magpies prop John Farrell proved he had recovered from his facial injury with two tries for the Hawke's Bay under-19s in their first outing at their national tournament in Taupo last weekend.

Farrell replaces Mark Braidwood on the pine and other substitute changes see Eden-Whaitiri replace fellow Saracen Ben Parsons and Cardiff Vaega replace Snee.

Hurricanes and Maori All Black prop Ben May, who has yet to play for the Magpies this season because of a knee injury, is still on the injured list alongside fellow props Braidwood and Mason Kean, lock Michael Allardice, loosies Matt Gardner and Gareth Evans and McNicol. Midfield back Pasqualle Dunn will again play for the Saracens today.

Both teams:
Hawke's Bay: Ihaia West, Hayden Hann, Jonah Lowe, Richard Buckman, Mason Emerson, Tiaan Falcon, Brad Weber, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Hugh Renton, Tony Lamborn, Geoff Cridge, Nick Palmer, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Ash Dixon (captain), Jason Long. Substitutes, forwards: Jacob Devery, Tim Farrell, Jarvy Aoake, Josh Eden-Whaitiri, Fa'alemiga Selesele. Backs: Ellery Wilson, Cardiff Vaega, TJ Vaega.
Counties-Manukau: (Not Supplied).