For a player who once missed virtually an entire rugby season because of injury, Bay of Plenty Steamers openside flanker Mitch Karpik is becoming the ironman of the forward pack.

After three games in the Mitre 10 Cup, the 23-year-old is the only forward to have played 80 minutes of every match.

"That's what I do it for. I just love playing," he says.

Born and raised in Auckland, the Kings College educated Karpik has been in the Steamers and Chiefs squads since the beginning of 2016, the year he suffered a knee injury in a pre-season match for the Chiefs and spent the season on the sidelines.

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But fully fit again – although still sporting a 10cm scar on his left knee - he's now revelling in his second actual playing season with the Steamers.

"They're a great bunch with great leadership."

Karpik's on-field endurance this season has been marked by a high-quality work rate. Whether carrying the ball, tackling or fetching from rucks, his scraggy blonde hair has often been prominent during the Steamers' three matches so far.

But he's frustrated by last Saturday's loss to Canterbury.

The Steamers were up 19-14 early in the second half and were still ahead with just over 20 minutes to play. Then Canterbury took control, with former All Black Luke Romano a dominant figure, and they eased away to win 31-19.

So why did things turn at about the three-quarter mark of the match?

"That's what our reviews this week have been based on.

"I think there was bit of panic. Having that lead might have been a bit overwhelming for us."

Karpik admits that the Steamers made crucial mistakes.

"We botched a couple of lineouts and Canterbury took full advantage. We just weren't clinical enough."

Despite the setback against the defending champions, the flanker is pretty satisfied with the season so far.

"When the draw came out, and we had to start with the three matches we've had [against Premiership teams Taranaki, Counties-Manukau and Canterbury] I think we'd have been pretty happy with eight points after three matches."

That's what they have, but the Steamers go to Napier tomorrow morning for Saturday evening's game against the tier-two Championship leaders Hawke's Bay a full four points behind the home team in the standings.

That's because the Magpies, with two high-scoring wins, and a narrow loss where they scored four tries, have four bonus points. The Steamers have none.

So while this match is the first Bay of Plenty have this season against a Championship team, it's an absolutely vital one if the Steamers are to finish top of the division before the semifinals.

"Hawke's Bay have been playing some good rugby definitely," says Karpik.

"We've been fortunate to get a full week to prepare."

Hawke's Bay will be on a six-day turnaround after their 25-29 loss to Counties-Manukau on Sunday.

The Steamers team for the game is named later today but with Karpik's endurance and form so far this season, he's expected to again do a full shift in the No 7 jersey.