The Steamers have had a horrible injury run this season but one of the positives is inexperienced players are getting a crack at the big time, as CRAIG TIRIANA reports.
IF Kelly Haimona learns a couple of things this season, one better be about the perks of the job.
His family would be pretty keen for him to pick up on the spoils available when playing for the Bay of Plenty Steamers in the Air New Zealand Cup.
They had to watch the 21-year-old's debut against Otago last Saturday on television after the Rotorua-based builder's labourer forgot to organise tickets for his family.
"I totally forgot," the fresh-faced first-five said.
In his defence, it would be fair to say the former Rotorua Boys' High School student had a bit more on his mind than picking up the professional rugby playing freebies for the whanau.
After two seasons of playing influential roles with Whakarewarewa, a broken arm suffered by Steamers regular No 10 Murray Williams, saw Haimona promoted into the region's top squad for the rest of the competition.
Since then the raw 110kg and 192cm tall Haimona has been walking on air after dropping tools mid-job to answer the SOS call and turn up at Tauranga's Blue Chip Stadium to train about two weeks ago.
"It was very exciting when I got the call ... I'm quite happy too," the former Bay of Plenty age group representative said.
"I was looking forward to hopefully making the Steamers next year. This year I wanted to work hard with the development [team] but with the injuries, I have an early call-up."
He took the field in the 51st minute last Saturday and impressed many with his composure and ability to settle into the pivotal No 10 role.
"It helped a lot with Mike Delany outside me and Jamie Nutbrown at halfback - with their experience it was pretty sweet out there," Haimona said.
Steamers backs coach Steve Miln considered Haimona's 29 minutes a strong beginning.
"He's actually a really composed character. The minutes he had in the weekend he didn't look as though he was out of his league. He just came on, passed the ball, did what he had to do and did it correctly."
Haimona was one of several running around in the Steamers backline who would not have expected to be there at the beginning of the competition.
McMillan, the current Steamers' manager and past player of 113 games, just happens to be Haimona's uncle and coach at Whakarewarewa.
He's had a healthy influence on the youngster, encouraging the talented ball player to train even if it has taken the odd bribe - tickets to the Wellington Sevens - in lieu of dropping some kilograms to get him on track.
Playing professional rugby is something Haimona really wants to give a decent go. He knows he has to get fitter. Bay union staff want him to shed another 10kg.
"I'm contracted till the end of season then I'll go back to work but hopefully, by the end of this year I'll sort something out with the Bay.
"I really don't want to play for any other province - this is my home province."
Haimona has been named in this weekend's Bay of Plenty squad to play Tasman.
He'll start on the bench with the only real changes seeing Rena Schuster come back from injury to centre and Wayne Hughson move onto the right wing with Jason Hona back on the 10-man injured sheet. The forwards are unchanged. Last week's loose trio staying the same with Solomon King at No 8 and Colin Bourke on the side with tanerau Latimer.
A change could come in the second row where Culum Retallick is bracketed with Aaron Rameka alongside John Moore.
Haimona's Whakarewarewa clubmate Wade Pereira is the reserve hooker while frontrowers Matt Wallis and James McGougan are also bracketed on the bench.
THE STEAMERS: Lance MacDonald, Wayne Hughson, Rena Schuster, Paula Asaeli, Charles Baxter, Michael Delany, Jamie Nutbrown, Solomon King, Tanerau Latimer, Colin Bourke, John Moore, Culum Retallick/Aaron Rameka, Ben Castle, Ngarimu Simpkins, Simms Davison.
Reserves: Wade Pereira, Matt Wallis/James McGougan, Aaron Rameka/Culum Retallick Aidan Kuka, Charles Hubbard, Kelly Haimona, Toby Arnold.