TRY sorting out the most-improved team in Hawke's Bay's premier club rugby competition between the Nash Cup and Maddison Trophy rounds.
Carters Frame and Truss Taradale by far. The side, which has former Magpies captain Jason Shoemark as head coach this season, finished seventh in the Nash Cup wth four wins and five losses and will start today's eighth round in the Tui Maddison Trophy as the second placed team.
"Coming from a Super Rugby background I quickly realised I had to simplify things down. Simple run, catch, pass stuff ... basic game plans," former Highlanders and Blues midfield back Shoemark, 35, recalled.
"I came from a professional environment where we trained up to four days each week. Most of the players we have here do it for love and rugby is their third priority after family and work. We've got these players for 90 minutes each Tuesday and Thursday night when we need to give them the key things they are going to work with."
The father of three who works as a talent development co-ordinator for the Hawke's Bay Rugby Football Union, Shoemark, admitted the season has been a learning curve.
"It's a lot different from being a player. You realise how many hours are spent behind the scenes on planning the trainings, video analysis and team selection. We have to give players honest feedback on why they have missed selection and Dan and I haven't had too many complaints about this," Shoemark said referring to his assistant, fellow former national age group rep Dan Waenga.
He pointed out there were a number of major departures from last year's squad, Magpies flanker Tom Stanley the most notable. Experienced Magpies, halfback Chris Eaton and midfield back Billy Ropiha, have seldom been available this season.
"In a way that has been a blessing because we haven't relied on individuals like in the past. We've had to develop a team with a good environment. Hopefully we've done that and I'm stoked with the improvement," Shoemark said.
A former Northland and Otago rep who played 63 first class games for the Magpies, Shoemark had several players new to premier play during the first round. That round is a distant memory for the Mighty Maroons who know a win against Tech Group of Companies Napier Technical at Whitmore Park today will secure a home semifinal.
"We've always struggled with Tech at Whitmore. It's important we establish a solid platform up front first so we can then get plenty of quality ball to the likes of Dan McIntyre and Leafi Tupuola out wide," Shoemark stressed.
He agreed McIntyre, who has scored 16 tries in club play, has been in superb form and has to be pushing hard for Magpies Mitre 10 Cup squad selection. Other highlights have been the contributions from Scottish first five-eighth Gregor McNeish, captain Andrew Gardner, former age group hooker Jacob Baker who has switched to No8, Uta Tupuola who has been a rock at second five-eighth after switching from fullback and halfback Karl Hewitt who has stepped up big time in Eaton's absence.
Shoemark heaped kudos on hard working manager Paul Atkins who celebrated his 53rd birthday this week.
"Paul has been in a couple of Nash Cup-winning teams but has never won a Maddison as a manager. It would be good to win one for him this season and the boys themselves.
"We've got a semifinal berth. Now we want to go on and win the trophy but we can't take any team for granted," Shoemark stressed.
"Apart from Napier Old Boys Marist who are out on their own the rest of us are pretty tight," he added.
Magpies coach Craig Philpott said all of his wider training group players were available for club play today and the following week. However, on July 30 the 26 players who are required for the pre-season game against Manawatu won't be available for the semis should their teams qualify.
Considering the magnitude of the home semifinal carrot, expect Taradale to win by at least 11 points. Defending champions Tanalised Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports should beat MAC by 15 at Tamatea Park, HBI Insurances Napier Old Boys Marist should retain the Challenge Shield with a 17-point win against K9 Petfoods Clive at Park Island, Northfuels Central should pip Tamatea by six at Bill Mathewson Park and Progressive Meats Havelock North should celebrate their club day with a three-point win against Ansin & Monteith Hastings Rugby and Sports at Anderson Park.