Rathkeale College first XV rugby skipper Sam Tufuga is a realist.
The strapping seventh former with a reputation as a hard-running prop knows the magnitude of the task facing his side in the 2014 Central North Island secondary schools competition (CNI) but is convinced they will do themselves justice against high quality opposition.
"It will be tough but we will be ready to give it a decent go," Tufuga said yesterday. "We should be competitive, that's the main thing."
For Rathkeale, this will be their third year in a competition also involving Feilding High, Lindisfarne College, St John's (Hastings), Wanganui Collegiate, Francis Douglas College (New Plymouth), St Peter's (Cambridge) and St Paul's Collegiate from Hamilton.
Last season, they came sixth in a series eventually won by Francis Douglas and Tufuga, who was in his debut season for the first XV, recalls them making steady improvement all the way through.
"You learn a lot, the whole experience is good for your game," he said.
Coached by Deon van Deventer with assistance from former Wairarapa-Bush skipper Joe Harwood, Rathkeale will open their CNI campaign with an away match against Feilding High on June 7 and they will also be away to Francis Douglas on June 14 and Wanganui Collegiate on June 18. The first of the home games will be against St Paul's Collegiate on June 28 and they will also host St John's on July 5 and Lindisfarne on July 29. Their final fixture against St Peter's will be away on August 2.
Team manager Brian James said a busy lead-in to the CNI should have Rathkeale in good shape for their opening game.
The team have already played in a pre-season tournament in Christchurch against Christchurch Boys seconds, John McGlashan (Dunedin) and Rangiora High and, while the results went against them, they gained plenty from the opportunity to experiment with combinations and tactics.
This Saturday, Rathkeale will play another "friendly" against Central Hawke's Bay College in Dannevirke and, on Tuesday, they will travel to Eketahuna to take on the Tararua College first XV under lights. A home game against Hutt International Boys School will follow on May 27 and they will be off to Christchurch at Queen's Birthday Weekend for the annual interschool fixture with Christ's College.
"By the time we strike Feilding everything should be in place for a strong performance there," James said.