Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby captain Ash Dixon admitted it took him a while before deciding to return to the Bay for this season.
"I had to do what was right for my wife and children," said the father of two.
"A lot of things had to change and a lot of things needed to be fixed. I didn't want to run away from a team which had won four games out of 20 during the last two years ... I wanted to help put Hawke's Bay back where we belong," Dixon said as he packed his bags in preparation for tomorrow's Mitre 10 Cup Championship first round clash against the Southland Stags in Invercargill.
Having been back with the Magpies for the past two weeks after another Super season with the Highlanders the Maori All Blacks captain who played the first of his 82 first class games for the Magpies in 2008 is adamant he made the right decision.
"I feel reinvigorated. There are so many new faces [17 of the 36-strong squad have yet to play for the Bay at first class level] and a lot of young ones keen to get to the top."
Two rookies to impress Dixon are prop Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe and halfback Folau Fakatava who both played for the national title-winning Hastings Boys' High School First XV last year.
"Those two have been outstanding during the couple of weeks I've been back. They are pretty tough. They go hard and don't hold back, they have got big ambitions," Dixon explained.
Magpies 2017 player of the year Dixon agreed the Stags will be a challenge.
He is expecting former Magpies loosie Tony Lamborn to make plenty of carries after being named No 8.
"Obviously we won't be focusing too much on what the Stags do. We want to see what we can do with a lot of newcomers who deserve a crack after training so well. It's always a challenge down there and we know it's going to be cold even if the sun is out."
Like many of the Magpies Super players in recent seasons, Dixon would often return from Super duty battered and bruised. They often needed a few weeks to get their bodies right.
But Dixon said he benefited from having a few weeks off before resuming training with the Magpies.
"I had a chance to relax with plenty of fishing and diving. The sea was therapeutic for the body.
"While I'm pretty keen to play 100 games for the Magpies it is important I take things one game at a time."
A former Hurricanes and Blues player who played 22 first class games for Auckland during the 2010 and 2011 seasons before returning to the Bay, Dixon said he enjoyed the Magpies pre-season camp last weekend.
"We did a lot of team building stuff. We had an Amazing Race event around Napier and pool-related activities. It was during the camp I realised how hungry all our new players were to have a go," he added.
Magpies head coach Mark Ozich has opted to start former Wellington Lions prop Joe Apikotoa ahead of Hurricanes and Maori All Blacks tighthead Ben May in the tighthead role.
"Joe has slogged his guts out during the pre-season and deserves the start. Ben only returned on Tuesday and still has to learn all of the calls and get up to speed."
Gutsy loosie Josh Kaifa has retained the No 7 jersey after his first 80-minute effort in last week's pre-season win against Manawatu since returning from an ankle injury.
"Josh will get better with the more game time he plays and he hung in there well against Manawatu," Ozich said.
Unavailable for the Magpies with injuries are props Jason Long and Tim Farrell, lock Geoff Cridge and loosies Hannon Brighouse and Will Tremain. Hooker Jacob Devery, loosie Fa'alemiga Selesele and midfield back Shae Tucker will play for the Hawke's Bay Saracens against the Whanganui Development team in Marton today.
First five-eighth Lincoln McClutchie, second five-eighth Danny Toala and hooker Kianu Kereru-Symes will turn out for the Hawke's Bay under-19s against the Wellington counterparts in the capital tomorrow.
Teams for the 4.35pm clash:
■Southland Stags: Tauasosi Tuimavave, Isaac Te Tamaki, Aleki Morris, Matt Johnson, Jackson Ormond, James Wilson (cc), Jay Renton, Tony Lamborn, Phil Halder, Wade McRae, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Ben Fotheringham, Morgan Mitchell, Flynn Thomas (cc), Joe Walsh. Substitutes, forwards: Andrew Ready, Shaun Stodart, Chris Apoua, Ray Tatafu, Bill Fukofuka. Backs: Nico Costa, Broc Hooper, Lewis Ormond.
■Hawke's Bay Magpies: JJ Taulagi, Jonah Lowe, Stacey Ili, Sasa Tofilau, Mason Emerson, Tiaan Falcon, Brad Weber (vice captain), Gareth Evans (vc), Josh Kaifa, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Tom Parsons, Michael Allardice, Joe Apikotoa, Ash Dixon (c), Mark Braidwood. Substitutes, forwards: Ben Power, Ben May, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Sam Ulufonua, Devan Flanders. Backs: Folau Fakatava, Pasqualle Dunn, Michael Buckley.