Hawke's Bay Rugby Union has named a 38-man Magpies squad that includes three home-grown All Blacks and three other internationals for the Mitre 10 Cup championship starting this weekend.
They are among at least nine who have had some international rugby experience, and only seven of the squad have not played for the Magpies, benchmarking the local team aspirations of coach and former Hastings Boy's High School first XV coach Mark Ozich when he took on the job in 2018.
All 38 have played some or all of their club rugby in Hawke's Bay.
The lone current All Blacks player in the squad is halfback Brad Weber, who retained his place when named in the new national squad on Sunday. He has played about 170 top levels matches, including five for New Zealand, since his championship debut for Otago in 2012.
The others are brothers and former All Blacks Bryn and Gareth Evans.
Bryn Evans, who turns 36 during the competition, has played more than 370 matches at international, Super Rugby, interprovincial and overseas premier club competition level spanning 18 years, including two All Blacks tests in 2009.
Younger brother and loose forward Gareth Evans played one match for the All Blacks in 2018, and has played more than 100 matches at Super Rugby and Mitre Cup level.
The oldest member of the squad is Tongan prop Arizona (Sona) Taumalolo, who turns 39 during the competition and whose career of more than 200 upper level matches includes 20 for Tonga and a near cult-status 45 for the Magpies from 2005-2011, including one of the Bay's most memorable individual performances of the new millennium, against Wellington in 2007.
The other 15-a-side internationals are Samoa representatives Stacey Ili, a wing, and Iakapo Mapu, a loose forward, while also in the quad are national Sevens representatives Kurt Baker, Ollie Sapsford and Lolagi Visinia.
The youngest player in the squad is halfback and Highlanders Super Rugby's Folau Fakatava, a former Hastings Boys' High players who turns 21 in December and is one of 21 squad members who have graduated from Hawke's Bay secondary schools.
The Magpies have had two warm-up matches, drawing 31-all with Waikato in Taupo on August 28 and being beaten 31-26 by Auckland in Rotorua on Saturday.
Delayed by the Covid-19 crisis, the Magpies' campaign opens away to Southland in Invercargill on Sunday, with the first appearance at McLean Park in Napier a Sunday-afternoon match against Counties-Manukau on September 13.
Ozich is delighted that after all the hard work his team is finally gathered and ready to go.
"The group has prepared well and the boys coming back from Super Rugby had added some valuable experience and excitement," he said.
"After their hard work in the off-season all are working hard creating competition for starting spots and itching to take the field."
HBRU chief executive Jay Campbell said the squad "looks as strong as we have named in the last three years".
It has "real depth" across most positions with a nucleus of last year's squad intermingled with some new star signings and with some fresh new faces who have earned their places through outstanding club performances, he said.
"This year has and continues to bring unique challenges and uncertainty for everyone but this team understand that every time they take the field, they are representing this province and will be looking to put in performances their community will be proud of'," he said.
Hawke's Bay has an exciting lineup of home matches at McLean Park with Canterbury the star attraction. Traditional lower North Island rivalry will be seen in the matches against Manawatu and Wellington.
The squad is: Joe Apikotoa (Taradale), Kurt Baker (Technical), Geoff Cridge (Central), Jacob Devery (Hastings), Ash Dixon (Technical), Mason Emerson (Hastings), Gareth Evans (Havelock North), Bryn Evans (Havelock North), Folau Fakatava (Hastings), Devan Flanders (Havelock North), Neria Fomai (Hastings), Solomone Funaki (MAC), Joel Hintz (Central), Stacey Ili (Napier OBM), Josh Kaifa (Clive), Kianu Kereru-Symes (MAC), Jason Long (Hastings), Jonah Lowe (Clive), Caleb Makene (Taradale), Iakopo Mapu (Taradale), Elijah Martin (Technical), Lincoln McClutchie (MAC), Connor McLeod (Hastings), Sam McNicol (Napier OBM), Marino Mikaele-Tu'u (Hastings), Brendon O'Connor (Pirates), Tom Parsons (Central), Pouri Rakete-Stones (Pirates), Ollie Sapsford (Taradale), Sona Taumalolo (Clive), Danny Toala (Hastings), Will Tremain (Napier OBM), Anzelo Tuitavuki (Havelock North), Lolagi Visinia (Clive), Sebastian Visinia (Clive), Namatahi Waa (Taradale), Isiah Walker-Leawere (Clive), Brad Weber (Napier OBM).
Magpies Mitre 10 Cup Championships draw :
Sept 13, 4.35pm, v Southland, at Invercargill.
Sept 20, 2.05pm, v Counties Manukau, at McLean Park, Napier.
Sept 26, 7.05pm, v Canterbury, at McLean Park, Napier.
Oct 4, 4.35pm, v Otago, at Dunedin.
Oct 11, 2.05pm, v North Harbour, Albany
Oct 16, 7.05pm, v Northland, at McLean Park, Napier.
Oct 24, 4.35pm, v Manawatu, at McLean Park, Napier.
Nov 1, 2.05pm, v Bay of Plenty, at Tauranga
Nov 8, 2.05pm, v Wellington, at McLean Park, Napier.
Nov 15, 2.05pm, v Taranaki, at Inglewood.