Gareth Evans has heard the jokes suggesting he must be the highest paid Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby player in terms of minutes played in the professional era.
While the new Hurricanes No 8 has always accepted them with a smile he admitted his lack of game time since joining the Magpies in 2014, nine first-class appearances, has tested his patience. He made seven appearances in 2014 before his season ended when Wellington lock Vaea Fifita took him out with that brutal shoulder charge which still sends shivers down Magpies supporters spines, then played one game in 2015 and none last year.
"It's very unfortunate. I hardly got injured during my Super seasons with the Highlanders but when I want to be pulling on the Magpies jersey it's a different story. Injuries are part and parcel when you play a contact sport and I have to thank mum and dad [Jenny and Dai] for the support they have given through these frustrating times," Evans said after yesterday's training sessions in the countdown to tomorrow's final Mitre 10 Cup outing of the season for the Bay which will be his first appearance since a thigh injury forced him from the field in the first-round win against the Southland Stags.
"I'm looking forward to it. It's been a while between drinks and a long recovery process. I thought it was just a bruise but it was worse than that. I trained properly last week with full contact and I had four weeks of training before that. I wanted to make sure there were no setbacks ... I know it's the last game but that's how the cookie crumbles," Evans, 26, explained.
"I intend to go as hard as I can and then re-evaluate things at halftime with the aim of getting through the second half ... the lungs should be fine."
A younger brother of former All Black and Magpies lock Bryn Evans, Evans agreed the chance to retain the KR Tremain Memorial Trophy should be enough to inspire the hosts.
"It has been a frustrating season with injuries and other things going on and the fans are disappointed. It has not been through a lack of effort. The young guys in our systems have got more minutes than they would have anticipated," he explained.
Evans was spot on when he mentioned the areas of the Magpies game which required improvement after last weekend's 34-7 loss to Northland.
"Our set piece play, scrums and lineouts, and our physicality around the breakdown. Our backs are pretty good .. they just need a good platform from our forwards. I've got a few friends in the Turbos team and they play an exciting game. It's a must-win game for them ... it's going to be interesting."
With Evans, who has yet to sign a Mitre 10 Cup contract for next season, back in action tomorrow's game will be the first time this season the former Napier Boys' High School 1st XV 8, 9 and 10 combo of Evans, Chief Brad Weber and another new Hurricane Ihaia West will play together this season. Evans' return wasn't the only good news for Magpies head coach Craig Philpott after training yesterday.
Fullback Sam McNicol, centre Jonah Lowe and second five-eighth Richard Buckman who were all labelled 50-50 prospects for tomorrow's match because of their respective rib, ankle and leg injuries were all cleared to play.
It will be McNicol's first outing since the round-five match against Otago and Buckman's first since the round-eight clash with North Harbour. Unavailable for tomorrow are Hurricane Ben May, who has missed the entire campaign, loosie Matt Gardner who also hasn't played this season, props Mason Kean and Mark Braidwood, regular starting locks Michael Allardice and Geoff Cridge and midfield back Pasqualle Dunn.
However, Philpott still has enough ammunition to upset the Turbos who haven't won a first-class fixture at McLean Park since 1955. Former Magpies lock Tom Parsons will start for the visitors and his brother Ben Parsons is likely to get game time off the subs bench for the hosts.
Both are sons of former Magpie Rod Parsons. Former Magpies utility back Lewis Marshall is on the Turbos subs bench while Hawke's Bay age group product and former New Zealand under-20s rep Tim Cadwallader will start at hooker for Manawatu.
The Turbos could be a little jaded in the wake of their 46-25 loss to Taranaki in Wednesday night's Ranfurly Shield challenge in New Plymouth. However, they are still in semifinal contention and with the likes of captain and blindside flanker Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, a Super Rugby champion with the Crusaders and Highlanders lock Jackson Hemopo in the pack and centre Jason Emery and wingers Ambrose Vurtis and Newton Tudreu and substitute halfback Jamie Booth in the backs there is still enough talent on their roster to cause some damage.
They will create havoc if the Magpies defence remains as flimsy as it has for most of the season and their discipline doesn't improve on the 15 penalties conceded against Northland last weekend.
■ Tomorrow's curtainraiser, which was to be between the Hawke's Bay Ross Shield team and their Wairarapa Bush counterparts, has been cancelled because the Wairarapa Bush team has withdrawn. However, Hawke's Bay Rugby Union commercial manager Jay Campbell said there would still be plenty of entertainment after gates open at 3pm including a rippa rugby match between Mahora School from Hastings and Napier's St Patrick's School.
Non-playing Magpies will be signing posters behind the Harris Stand between 3.30pm and 4.15pm.
Hawke's Bay Magpies: Sam McNicol, Cardiff Vaega, Jonah Lowe, Richard Buckman, Mason Emerson, Ihaia West, Brad Weber, Gareth Evans, Tony Lamborn, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Josh Eden-Whaitiri, Nick Palmer, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Ash Dixon (captain), Jason Long. Substitutes, forwards: Jacob Devery, Tim Farrell, Jarvy Aoake, Ben Parsons, Hugh Renton. Backs: Ellery Wilson, Tiaan Falcon, TJ Vaega.
Manawatu Turbos: Te Rangatira Waitokia, Newton Tudreu, Jason Emery, Hamish Northcott, Ambrose Curtis, Jade Te Rure, Kayne Hammington, Brice Henderson, Antonio Kiri Kiri, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis (captain), Jackson Hemopo, Tom Parsons, Michael Alaalatoa, Tim Cadwallader, Fraser Armstrong. Substitutes, forwards: Tom Crozier, Tuki Raimona, Sean Paranihi, Liam Hallam-Eames, Harrison Brewer. Backs: Jamie Booth, Sam Malcolm, Lewis Marshall.