So where did the Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby team go wrong in 2017?

Numerous factors will be discussed by head coach Craig Philpott and his support crew as end-of-season reviews take place this week. Near the top of the list will be whether or not Philpott was able to give his role the necessary attention during the same year he was head coach of the world championship-winning New Zealand under-20 team.

It must have been equally as tough for his assistant coach, Mark Ozich, who didn't start with the Magpies until vacating his head coach job with the Hastings Boys' High School 1st XV at the end of term two. The departure of Hurricanes hooker Ricky Riccitelli, who spent time with the All Blacks wider training group this year, and Hurricanes lock Mark Abbott at the start of the year were massive blows.

But the biggest contributing factor to the Magpies' two-win, eight-loss record and second-to-last placing in the Mitre 10 Cup Championship this season was injuries ... without a doubt. To have Maori All Black and Hurricanes prop Ben May miss the entire season with his knee injury was a huge blow particularly in the absence of Riccitelli who did an admirable job in seven starts at prop last year.


Seven of the Magpies' 30 contracted players were unavailable for the shaky round-one 24-16 win against Southland. Super players Jonah Lowe, Sam McNicol, Brad Weber and May were among those. Another three, Gareth Evans, Tony Lamborn and Mason Emerson, were injured during the match.

Nine players, including five with Super experience, May, Weber, Lamborn, Evans and Hugh Renton, were unavailable for the 46-17 loss to Bay of Plenty. May, Lamborn and Evans were among eight unavilable for the 53-10 loss to Canterbury.

Four Magpies, captain and hooker Ash Dixon, fellow Super players Ihaia West and Michael Allardice along with world champion Baby Black Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, were injured against the Cantabs. Eleven players including Allardice, Dixon, May and West, were unavailable for the 40-27 loss to Wellington. Another two Super players, Lamborn and Geoff Cridge, were injured at the Cake Tin.

Allardice, Cridge, Dixon, Evans, Lamborn, May and West were among the 11 unavailable for the 64-21 loss to Otago. McNicol and prop Mark Braidwood were injured during this debacle.

Allardice, Evans, McNicol and May were among eight unavailable forf the 33-14 loss to Counties-Manukau. Evans, May, McNicol and new Waratahs lock Nick Palmer were on the list of eight unavailable for the 48-17 loss to Taranaki.

This quartet were again among eight unavailable for the 33-30 loss to North Harbour, the Magpies' best 80-minute display of the season, and a match in which Lowe and Allardice were injured.

Six Super players, Richard Buckman, Allardice, Cridge, Evans, McNicol and May, missed the 34-7 loss to Northland. Lowe and Pasqualle Dunn were injured in this Whangarei encounter.

May, Cridge and Allardice were among seven players who missed Sunday's 36-31win against the Manawatu Turbos, a game in which the Magpies' second half was superb. The fact nine non-contracted players were used this season was an indication of how bad the injury tally was.

Five awards will be up for grabs at the Magpies' end-of-season function to be held in Napier tomorrow night - rookie of the year, best forward, best back, player of the year and players' player. World champion Baby Blacks prop Pouri Rakete-Stones and utility back Cardiff Vaega, who played in all 10 Mitre 10 Cup games, and Palmer are the obvious contenders for the rookie award.

Palmer missed two games with a bout of the flu so Rakete-Stones and Vaega would be more favoured. Rakete-Stones made tremendous progress on the tighthead side of the scrum and, while Vaega missed too many tackles when he played second five-eighth, he did everything expected of him when selected on the wing so either he or Rakete-Stones would deserve this gong.

Dixon and loosie Mikaele-Tu'u must be considered serious contenders for forward of the year. Prop Jason Long, another to play in every game, could also come into contention but he wouldn't threaten Dixon who should get the nod over Mikaele-Tu'u.

The versatile pair of Buckman and West must be the hot favourites for back of the year. Buckman had the better outing in Sunday's win against Manawatu which may give him the edge.

The winners of the back of the year and forward of the year awards will be the contenders for the players of the year. Buckman or West from the backs or Dixon from the forwards, anyone of those three will be a worthy recipient after a Magpies season all three are unlikely to discuss with pleasure in a couple of decades when they look back on their careers.

All three got to play against the British and Irish Lions earlier this season, West on two occasions, with the Blues and Maori All Blacks who Dixon captained. Buckman played in a winning Highlanders outfit and West scored that memorable matchwinning try for the Blues. Those are the 2017 highlights they will recall in years to come and rightly so.

The players' player is voted by the players after every match using the 3, 2, 1 system. One would expect Dixon to feature here also but so could the likes of Long, Rakete-Stones and Vaega who played every game. Any one of those four would deserve it.