Hawke's Bay Magpies winger Neria Fomai is loving his extended run in the team - and is amped for another solid performance against Manawatu on Saturday afternoon.
The Magpies will put their Ranfurly Shield on the line against the travelling Turbos, with kickoff at McLean Park set for 4.35pm.
Fomai will start on a wing for the third straight game, and said despite the very strong competition for places in the outside backs, the players all help each other out.
"Just to get into that 23 was a big challenge, so I'm just trying to be the best I can be," he said.
The 28-year-old didn't feature in any of Hawke's Bay's first four 2020 Mitre 10 Cup fixtures, with Mason Emerson, Jonah Lowe and Lolagi Visinia all preferred out wide.
Fomai said it was tough to miss out on game time over that first month of the season:
"Obviously you want to get out there and play and represent your province."
But he stayed patient, and continued to trust what his coaches were telling him.
And when an opportunity came in the form of a start on the right wing against North Harbour, Fomai was ready to grab it with both hands.
The Hastings Rugby and Sports man was the Magpies' sole shining light in that disappointing 46-10 loss, and he credited his player-of-the-day performance to trusting the work he had already done in preparation.
"Just really going out there and not being too nervous about it," Fomai said.
"I was quite lucky in a couple of those runs."
Maybe so, but it is talent and hard work that kept him in the lineup as Magpies coach Mark Ozich rotated his best players back into the side for last week's first Ranfurly Shield defence against Northland and tomorrow's challenge from Manawatu.
Fomai said they can beat the winless Turbos by playing the same way they have over the last few weeks.
"Not overthinking it and also not underestimating what they can bring," he said.
"After a couple of good results against big teams, you don't wanna just go in there thinking that we've already won the game without even playing it."
Fomai said Manawatu will fire every shot they have to try to turn their season around by taking the Ranfurly Shield.
But he hopes the Magpies have another strong crowd at their backs to help weather that storm after their biggest attendance in five years last week.
Fomai said he loves playing at home, and the players always get a massive boost from their fans.
"When we run out on to the field, I think that's when we feel it the most," he said.
"Just everyone screaming, you can't really hear any of the boys when we're trying to talk in the huddle, it's awesome."
Manawatu are seeking their first Ranfurly Shield win since 1976, the only previous time they have held the trophy.
Hawke's Bay have won every match between the neighbouring provinces since the 2014 Championship final, and have triumphed over the Turbos in all home games since they were both promoted to the 2006 Air New Zealand Cup.
Hawke's Bay Magpies to play Manawatu at McLean Park on Saturday at 4.35pm
1 Pouri Rakete-Stones, 2 Ash Dixon (captain), 3 Joe Apikotoa, 4 Geoff Cridge, 5 Tom Parsons, 6 Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 8 Devan Flanders, 9 Folau Fakatava,
10 Lincoln McClutchie, 11 Neria Fomai, 12 Danny Toala, 13 Stacey Ili, 14 Lolagi Visinia, 15 Caleb Makene. Reserves: 16 Kianu Kereru-Symes (vice-captain), 17 Jason Long, 18 Joel Hintz, 19 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Connor McLeod, 22 Jonah Lowe, 23 Kurt Baker.
Manawatu Turbos squad
1 Solomona Sakalia, 2 Sam Stewart, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 4 Micaiah Torrence-Read, 5 Liam Mitchell, 6 TK Howden, 7 Shamus Hurley-Langton, 8 Kirk Tufuga, 9 Jamie Booth (captain),
10 Ben Wyness, 11 Te Rangatira Waitokia, 12 James Tofa, 13 Josiah Maraku, 14 Nigel Ah Wong, 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder. Reserves: 16 Siua Maile, 17 Tietie Tuimauga, 18 Paulo Leleisiuao, 19 Teofilo Paulo, 20 Johnny Galloway, 21 Bryn Wilson, 22 Drew Wild, 23 Adam Boult.