Neria Fomai's father-in-law Porky Mareikura never got to see him play for the Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby side.

"Porky was one of my main mentors. I put his name on my wrist so I take his memory out on the field with me," Fomai said of the former MAC frontrower who died after a heart attack when watching the Hawke's Bay women's final at Napier's Whitmore Park in June.

Fomai or "Bubba" as he is better known in Hawke's Bay rugby circles is likely to carry Porky's memory for more minutes tomorrow when he makes his starting XV debut for the Magpies in their fourth round Mitre 10 Cup Championship match against Northland at Semenoff Stadium in Whangarei. He played as a substitute in the Magpies three previous outings this season.

"I'm pretty excited. I've been trying since 2014 when I broke my arm during the club season to make the Magpies team and now I've got a starting berth the aim is to hang on to it," Fomai said.


A former Samoa Sevens rep, Fomai, 27, replaces injured Hurricane Jonah Lowe on the right wing. All of the Hastings Rugby and Sports club player's eight previous first class outings, for the Southland Stags in 2017, were at centre.

"This year I played a lot of my club rugby on the wing because we had a lot of midfielders. When I first started premier club play I was on the wing. It's been awesome trying to adjust again but I'm happy to play wherever I'm needed," Fomai said.

The former Hawke's Bay Sevens captain who has also played for the Hawke's Bay Samoans and Hawke's Bay Saracens hopes to make the most of his opportunities with the Magpies to regain a berth in the Samoan Sevens side and then push for a spot in the Samoa 15s team. He believes time is on his side.

"With a bit more television exposure with those teams and the Magpies it might help people learn my real name," Fomai said with a laugh.

"Because I was the youngest of four brothers and one sister my mother used to call me Bubba. It started a trend with friends and clubmates and the name has stuck."

He is enjoying the Magpies environment.

"We've got great coaches, an awesome leadership group and a good bunch of young fellahs to be around."

Last summer he was part of the Warriors NRL team's pre-season training squad. Although Fomai missed out on a contract he said the training regime was exactly what he needed.


"In the past I had always backed up my 15s seasons with sevens in the off season. But the Warriors stint freshened me up for the rugby season."

Fomai caught the attention of Warriors scouts when playing for Bridge Pa at last year's National Maori Rugby League tournament. He has come a long way since winning the Hawke's Bay club rugby MVP award in 2016 10 years after brother and former Magpies loosie and hooker Tivaini Fomai won it.

That award came six days after Fomai and his wife Lyrae welcomed their daughter Elin-Raine into the world.

"She is three now and my motivation."

His unbeaten team won't be short of motivation tomorrow. The Magpies know another victory will keep them on track for a home semifinal.

The fact they haven't won in Whangarei since 2009 should be enough to fire the visitors up. With just one victory from their three outings this season the Taniwha will be desperate for a win to keep their hopes of a semifinal berth alive.


Magpies head coach Mark Ozich said Lowe has a fractured shoulder and could be out of action for six weeks. Fomai's starting XV debut is one of three significant milestones the Magpies will celebrate this weekend.

Centre Stacey Ili will bring up his 1000th minute and earn his blazer and Chiefs lock Michael Allardice, who will make his first outing of the season off the subs bench, will play his 100th first class match.

Other changes to the starting XV used in last week's win against Otago see Highlander Folau Fakatava replace All Black Brad Weber at halfback, former All Black Gareth Evans replace Devan Flanders at No 8, Maori All Black and Hurricane Ben May replace Joel Hintz at tighthead prop. Changes to the subs bench see Jason Long relace May, Allardice replace Solomone Funaki, Devan Flanders added and Zac Donaldson replace Fakatava.

Ozich and captain Ash Dixon have made no secret of the fact they are seeking gradual improvement each week. If they are to improve this week they will have to reduce their missed tackle count of 31 from the Otago victory.

Sixteen of those were missed by the backs. Fifteen turnovers were conceded against Otago and it will be interesting to see if this count along with the 15 penalties conceded can be reduced.

Hawke's Bay and Northland have met on 36 occasions since 1929. Northland have won 20 of the fixtures, the Magpies 15 and one has been drawn. Last year the Magpies scored nine tries in a memorable 55-41 victory in Napier. In 2017 the Taniwha won 34-7 in Whangarei.


Teams for the 5.05pm match:
Hawke's Bay: Caleb Makene, Neria Fomai, Stacey Ili, Danny Toala, Mason Emerson, Lincoln McClutchie, Folau Fakatava, Gareth Evans (vice-captain), Brendon O'Connor (vice-captain), Geoff Cridge, Tom Parsons, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Ben May, Ash Dixon (captain), Pouri Rakete-Stones. Substitutes: Forwards, Kianu Kereru-Symes, Jason Long, Namatahi Waa, Michael Allardice, Devan Flanders, Josh Kaifa. Backs, Zac Donaldson, Ollie Sapsford.

Northland: Northland: Scott Gregory, Renata Roberts-Te Nana, Matt Johnson, Blake Hohaia, Pisi Leilua, Jack Debreczeni, Sam Nock, Jaycob Matiu, Aorangi Stokes, Sam McNamara, Sam Caird, Temo Mayanavanua, Jack Straker, Paddy Jo Atkins, Ross Wright. Substitutes: Forwards, Nick Hyde, Corey Te Whata-Colley, Isileli Tu'ungafasi, Setefano Funaki, Jarod Byrnes. Backs, Harrison Levien, Tom Smith, Tamati Tua.