SEASON awards should be the furthest thing on the minds of Hawke's Bay Magpies players as they take the field for today's final outing of the season.
They should be focused on finishing their Mitre 10 Cup campaign with a polished performance against the Bay of Plenty Steamers at Napier's McLean Park. They need to restore some pride in the jersey and some faith among their fans and sponsors after being relegated from the Premiership with a two-win, seven-loss record to date.
However, the match will help in final predictions for the end-of-season awards which will be announced on Wednesday night. Despite the Magpies' disappointing season there is no shortage of quality among the possible contenders for the awards.
Matt Garland and Tiaan Falcon must be considered certain finalists for the rookie award. To be eligible for this one players must be in their first season with the Magpies but not have played Super Rugby, which rules out Canes prop Ben May so loosie Fa'alemiga Selesele would complete my nominees.
While Garland has progressed well at fullback Falcon would get the nod. With his ability to play 10, 12 or 15 he has the potential, the brains and the class to be the Bay's next Andrew Horrell-type player. Falcon's pet lamb isn't his only fan and it will be a surprise if he doesn't go close to the last cut for the Baby Blacks next year.
Outside backs Mason Emerson and Jonah Lowe, along with first five-eighth Ihaia West, have to be serious contenders for best back. This punter is going with the gutsy Emerson who has had to make more tackles than he should have, scored some spectacular tries and on the odd occasion he missed a tackle he made sure he nailed the next one.
Frontrower Ricky Riccitelli and lock Mark Abbott should feature among the best forward finalists. One wouldn't be upset if lock Geoff Cridge was the other finalist but Abbott should take out this award for a second consecutive year.
He has been consistent in all aspects of play with the sort of performances which reminded pundits of the displays former Magpies captain and loosie Michael Johnson rattled off week after week when he was at his peak during the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
Hard to go past Abbott for the MVP award too. There's ammunition to support the claims of West and Riccitelli but not the same amount as Abbott.
The final award up for grabs on Wednesday night will be the Players' Player. The players themselves have voted for this one each week and points have accumulated throughout the campaign.
Without knowing the vote stats this is the toughest to predict. However, May could be a serious contender.
He has been the kingpin in a dominant scrum throughout the season and the knowledge the former Maori All Black has passed on to the likes of Riccitelli and co has been top shelf.
The challenges for the Magpies today will be no different to those faced for most of the season. It is crucial they start better than they did during last weekend's 46-22 loss to Waikato when they were on the wrong end of a 27-3 halftime score.
Once again they must reduce their missed tackle count, as head coach Craig Philpott said the 25 against Waikato was an unacceptable number. They must retain possession better so there won't be a repeat of the 17 turnovers conceded in Hamilton.
In simple terms the Magpies must show their fans how to play rugby rather than not how to play.
As expected Steamers head coach Clayton McMillan has made few changes to his team which beat Manawatu 38-33 last weekend. Joe Tupe will start at No 8 after being sidelined with bruised ribs.
Tupe will replace Jesse Parete who has been ruled out with concussion. One of the Steamers' 2015 stars, winger Chase Tiatia, will be hoping to make an impact off the bench after being sidelined since round one.
An injury cloud hovers over substitute hooker James O'Reilly and if he fails a fitness test later today Sebastian Siataga will replace him on the bench. Blindside flanker Shahn Eru will play his blazer game for the Steamers.
Former Taradale prop Siegfried Fisi'ihoi will start in the No 3 jersey for the visitors.
Best forward: Nominees, Mark Abbott, Ricky Riccitelli, Geoff Cridge. Winner, Mark Abbott.
Best back: Nominees, Jonah Lowe, Mason Emerson, Ihaia West. Winner, Mason Emerson.
Rookie: Nominees, Tiaan Falcon, Matt Garland, Fa'alemiga Selesele. Winner, Tiaan Falcon.
Players player: Nominees, Ben May, Geoff Cridge, Tony Lamborn. Winner, Ben May.
Most valuable player: Nominees, Mark Abbott, Ihaia West, Ricky Riccitelli. Winner, Mark Abbott.
HAWKE'S BAY MAGPIES: Shannan Chase, Matt Garland, Jonah Lowe, Tiaan Falcon, Mason Emerson, Ihaia West, Brad Weber, Fa'alemiga Selesele, Tony Lamborn, Trent Boswell-Wakefield, Geoff Cridge, Mark Abbott (c), Mason Kean, Ricky Riccitelli, Tolu Fahamokioa.
Substitutes, forwards: Ash Dixon, Jason Long, Jarvy Aoake, Josh Eden-Whaitiri, Hugh Renton. Backs: Chris Eaton, Billy Ropiha, Dan McIntyre.
BAY OF PLENTY STEAMERS: Isaac Te Aute, Monty Ioane, Lalakai Foketi, Teddy Stanaway, Regan Ware, Dan Hollinshead, Te Aihe Toma, Joe Tupe, Henry Stowers, Shahn Eru, Culum Retallick, Keepa Mewett, Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, Joseph Royal, Aidan Ross. Substitutes, forwards: James O'Reilly/Sabastian Siataga, Solomona Sakalia, Pingi Tala'apitaga, Jeff Thwaites, Matt Axtens. Backs: Ruki Tipuna, Kelly Haimona, Chase Tiatia.