Don't discount Ryan Tongia's chances of earning a Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby team recall this season.
The former Papua New Guinea rugby league representative and Highlanders Super Rugby outside back who last played for the Magpies in 2016 is happy with his comeback from a 12-month spell with a knee injury and has told Magpies head coach Mark Ozich he will be available if required. Tongia, 29, will start at fullback for Progressive Meats Havelock North against Tanalised Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports in today's feature Tui Maddison Trophy eighth round encounter at Anderson Park, a match the villagers must win to stay in semifinal contention.
"It's a bit like when I first came here in 2014. I have to put my hand up each weekend in club rugby and make the most of my opportunities," Tongia said.
Four weeks ago he returned to the club scene with an outing for the villagers reserve grade team. Today's match will be Tongia's third this season for the premiers.
Last weekend he had his first outing at first five-eighth and scored two tries in a 47-17 loss to Napier Old Boys Marist.
"I told our coaches I would play wherever I was needed. We had a few injuries and players unavailable so it was good to add another string to the bow and get a taste of 10," Tongia said.
"I'm working towards full fitness. Obviously match fitness is different but owning a gym means I'm in a good position to get on top of my rehab," Tongia, who runs the F45 Training Gym in Hastings with wife Rachel, said.
He is impressed with the depth on the villagers roster this season.
"We've got a lot of young players involved with the Magpies wider training group who are providing good value to our environment. If a player goes down with an injury there is a young player ready to take his place ... our depth is fantastic."
"We've got a simple game plan for this weekend. But we won't get the result we want if we don't execute it. All 23 players and the coaching staff have to be involved with that execution," Tongia stressed.
While Tongia was a member of the villagers 2014 squad which won the Maddison Trophy he didn't play in the final because of Magpies commitments.
"It would be pretty awesome to play in a winning Maddison Trophy final but we will slip up if we don't look any further ahead than this week's match against Pirates. We have to take things week by week and we won't be taking Pirates lightly this week ... they deserve respect."
It was almost time for Tongia to switch back to work mode. He was about to prepare some free seven-day trial give-away promos for F45 Training Gym.
"If anybody wants a trial they can email us. I want to give back to Hawke's Bay because Hawke's Bay has given me so much in rugby. I want to help as many people as I can change their lives for the better," he added.
Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports manager Charles Reid said the visitors will be at full strength and they know the significance of the occasion. They have to secure the maximum five competition points and deny the villagers from gaining any to keep their slim semifinal hopes alive.
"Some players have expressed disappointment at missing out on the starting XV as well as the playing 22 so that's a good sign of the depth available this week," Reid said.
"We know if our set piece functions well we've got a chance. Havelock North have been hot and cold this year but at the same time everyone knows how eager they are to make the semifinals in their 125th anniversary year."
Pirate coach Andy Lord has rewarded second five-eighth Rana Hubbard for his player-of-the-match effort in last weekend's win against Clive with another start. This means Magpies wider training group midfielder Tyrone Dodd-Edwards will be on the subs bench.
The versatile Matt Murtha is also on the pine and should he and Dodd-Edwards be unleashed in the final 20 minutes the visitors should be able to stay within nine points of their hosts by the time national squad referee Hugh Reed blows the final whistle.
Wairarapa Bush-based international referee and former Black Ferns and Hawke's Bay Tui first five-eighth Rebecca Mahoney will control MAC's match against Auto Super Shoppe Hastings Rugby and Sports at Flaxmere Park. The visitors should win this clash by at least 13 points.
Another of the Bay's national squad referees, Dan Waenga, will be in charge of the Park Island encounter between WIT Napier Old Boys Marist and Tremains Andrew Clark Clive. Recent form suggests the Green Machine can beat the defending champions by 20.
Carl Jowsey will referee Taradale Rugby and Sports battle with Northfuels Central at Tareha Recreation Reserve. The Mighty Maroons have the ammunition to win by at least 18.
The closest match of the round is likely to be at Bill Mathewson Park, Hastings where Tamatea will host Altherm Window Systems Napier Technical with Nicolaas Putter in charge. The Texans should win by nine.