The Hawke's Bay Magpies have lost their last two NPC season openers, and head coach Mark Ozich is concerned that trend could repeat in their return to play after Covid lockdown.
Bay of Plenty are in town for a crack at the Ranfurly Shield tomorrow afternoon in what will be the team's first game in over a month.
"We normally take a few weeks to get going," Ozich said, calling his team "notoriously slow starters."
He added that while the players have been enthusiastic and training well in the last week, it takes a few games for any team to get up to speed.
"We know we're not quite there but hopefully we've done enough to get to a good space," Ozich said.
"It's all about regenerating momentum and starting again."
The Magpies have added more contact and intensity to their sessions since Hawke's Bay moved to Covid alert level 2 in order to mimic game situations as much as possible.
But Ozich said no matter how well they train his team won't know if they're at the level required until Sunday.
Bay of Plenty have won the last three editions of the Battle of the Bays, each played in Tauranga or Rotorua.
Ozich hopes playing at McLean Park will make all the difference for the Magpies.
"We just need to be better and deal with the physicality that they're gonna bring and shut down a lot of their threats effectively," he said.
After missing out against Otago through illness, skipper Ash Dixon is back at hooker in the only change to the starting XV.
Loose forward Brendon O'Connor and midfielder Ollie Sapsford should come off the bench for their first NPC action this season.
With Bryn Evans and Isaia Walker-Leawere both sidelined, expect Devan Flanders to cover lock.
First five-eighths Lincoln McClutchie will cover halfback due to long-term injuries to Folau Fakatava and Connor McLeod.
Ozich said Auckland remaining in level 4 has impacted the team's ability to recruit another No 9 and that would be a "work-in-progress" over the next couple of weeks.
Hawke's Bay Magpies to play Bay of Plenty, tomorrow, kickoff 2.05pm
1. Pouri Rakete-Stones, 2. Ash Dixon (captain), 3. Joe Apikotoa, 4. Geoff Cridge, 5. Tom Parsons, 6. Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, 7. Solomone Funaki, 8. Devan Flanders, 9. Ereatara Enari, 10. Lincoln McClutchie, 11. Jonah Lowe, 12. Danny Toala, 13. Stacey Ili, 14. Neria Fomai, 15. Lolagi Visinia.
Reserves: 16. Jacob Devery, 17. Namatahi Waa, 18. Joel Hintz, 19. Josh Kaifa, 20. Gareth Evans, 21. Tiaan Falcon, 22. Ollie Sapsford, 23. Brendon O'Connor.