If you notice Hawke's Bay motocross rider Bryn Codd being a little tentative in tomorrow's New Zealand Cross Country Championship first round at Norsewood, it's for a good reason.
Codd, 16, hasn't been on his Yamaha YZ125 since collecting an ankle injury in the first of his three races for 15-16 years riders at the prestigious Woodville Grand Prix meeting on January 26 and 27. The injury forced him out of the remainder of the event.
"While I'm hungry to ride again I'll be a bit rusty and might have to hold back," Codd said before a training ride on Thursday.
"Hopefully the ankle will be okay inside the boot," Codd said.
The four-round national championship will be the Baylis Brothers Ltd apprentice well driller's final championship in the junior ranks before stepping up to senior level.
"Naturally I want to finish on a high but I won't know exactly who I am up against until we arrive at Norsewood and see who is still in the junior ranks and who has gone up," Codd said.
One rider who will still be in the junior ranks, Eltham's Adam Loveridge, beat Codd for the junior title last year.
After this weekend's event Codd will tackle the third round of the five-round Bush Riders Motorcycle Club's Central Cross-country Series in Hawke's Bay on February 17. He finished second in the first round in the Hawke's Bay-hosted first round in November and missed the Woodville-hosted second round in December with concussion.
While Codd will be the Bay's best junior hope on Sunday Wairoa's Reece Lister and Napier's Mackenzie Wiig are tipped to do the best of the host province's senior riders in the event to be staged on farmland at 782 Ahiweka Rd, Flemington, about 22 kilometres east of Norsewood. Points from three of the four rounds only are counted towards New Zealand titles in the various categories, with riders to discard their one worst score, but that still doesn't leave a lot of room for error.
Outright senior winner last season, Taupo's Brad Groombridge, will be expected to rate among the favourites again this time around, especially considering his sharp performances at the parallel-but-separate New Zealand Motocross Championships, that series having completed its opening round in Taranaki last weekend.
Groombridge was solid in his cross-country campaign last season, registering a 1-1-9-2 scorecard over the series, and this was enough for him to edge out Taupo's Nathan Tesselaar, who had a 4-3-1-3 scorecard for 2018, for the outright series win. This was the third consecutive year Groombridge had taken the title.
In his chase for title No 4, Groombridge, can expect tough challenges from rivals such as Coatesville's Sam Greenslade, Eketahuna's Charlie Richardson, Titirangi's Callan May, Hamilton's Phil Goodwright, Bombay's Richard Sutton, Stratford's Josh Hunger, Raglan's Brandon Given, Lister and Wiig.
Other junior riders likely to shine are Cambridge's Callum Paterson and Michael Henry, Hamilton's Caleb Richardson, Raglan's Coby Rooks and Dannevirke's Ben Paterson.
"The venue is a great track and should be pretty testing," Motorcycling New Zealand cross-country commissioner Chris Smyth said.
"It's a property we have used in the past and about 25 kilometres in length. It features a bit of everything.
"It will be physically demanding, with steep rock ridges that will take some concentration from the riders."
"A few of the rider who were juniors last season may have decided to move up to the senior ranks and we just won't know which individuals have done that until the day of the race," Smyth explained.
"A few of the other juniors from last year will have remained in the junior ranks and they are entitled to do that until aged 17, when the jump to senior grade is compulsory," he added.
Mosgiel will host round two in the championship on March 24, Marlborough will host round three on April 14 and Taupo round four on May 25.