The Wanganui Sevens team is confident they can break into the top four of the Central Region tournament in Levin tomorrow and punch their ticket to go back to Rotorua.
Seeded seventh of the eight teams due to being eliminated early in the tournament last year, Wanganui is drawn in Pool B with No2 seed Taranaki, Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa Bush.
Pool A is top seed Wellington, along with Manawatu, home side Horowhenua-Kapiti and Poverty Bay.
"Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa, we beat them in the last tournament," said team manager Darrell Robinson.
The extended 15-man Wanganui squad won the Napier warmup tournament on November 25 by defeating both those teams as well as two Manawatu squads.
Under new coach Ace Malo, Wanganui will be hoping to emulate the 2015-16 side who were able to use a low seeding to their advantage by winning two pool games and making the Central Region semifinals, before going on to win the Shield grade at the Bayleys 7s National Tournament in Rotorua.
The top five teams at Central will qualify for Rotorua – the four championship semifinalists and the team that wins the consolation grade.
There is less than a handful of survivors from the 2016 squad who were eliminated in the consolation semifinals by Wairarapa Bush, but overall it is a stronger unit.
Samu Kubunavanua is back after declaring for Manawatu last year, joining the senior player group in captain Tremaine Gilbert and big Timoci Seruwalu – all three of them returning to the site of their Meads Cup success with Steelform Wanganui in late October.
Fellow squad member Cody Hemi missed the Napier tournament, however he rejoins the squad as an injury replacement for Shaquille Waara, who hurt his knee in training.
Allowed two loan players, Malo and Robinson have gone with George Stratton and Te Atuarere Albert ahead of fellow Manawatu-based player Ollie Brosnahan.
Both have strong local connections with Albert being a former Wanganui Collegiate 1st XV representative and Taihape's Stratton coming from fine rugby stock as the grandson of Bob Barrell, son of Peter Stratton and younger brother of Jack Stratton.
The bolter is Kaierau's happy Irishman Shandon Scott, who only went to Napier when Grayson Tihema injured his hamstring, but impressed in the sweeper position while scoring a try and kicking several conversions.
Also flying the Kaierau flag will be Karl Pascoe, Osea Tairogi and Ethan Robinson – the latter continuing his incredible representative season in a sixth different squad.
New Zealand Heartland Under 19 representative Hamish Bennett will be in the forwards, with John Kilisi proudly representing the Marton club.
"I'm pretty confident [of qualifying]. This team is looking pretty good," said Darrell Robinson.
"They worked a lot on their defence the last couple of training runs.
"There's a big of speed out there now."
Of the 3-4 players wider squad members who missed out, they will also travel with the squad as the support crew after their commitment to training in the past few weeks, previously a Wanganui achilles heel.
Robinson expects a busy day on the sidelines as the hot weather should continue even with some clouds forecast, with plenty of ice and water being a must.
Wanganui will play Taranaki at 10.40am, then Wairarapa Bush at 12.40pm, followed by Hawke's Bay at 2.20pm and then the playoffs from 3.40pm onwards.
The matches will be live-streamed at https://www.facebook.com/horowhenuakapiti.centralzone7s.
The Wanganui team is:
Tremaine Gilbert (c), Timoci Seruwalu, Samu Kubunavanua, Cody Hemi, Shandon Scott, Karl Pascoe, Osea Tairogi, Ethan Robinson, Hamish Bennett, John Kilisi, Te Atuarere Albert, George Stratton.