Retaining the Chapple Cup isn't something coach Colin Schaw expects his Hawke's Bay senior men's cricket team to sleepwalk through when the annual one-day Central Districts inter-district tournament starts today.
"We want to get ourselves off to a really good start in the season and this will be the way to prove our dominance over the last couple of [seasons] around association cricket in CD," says Schaw of the Pay Excellence Bay team who begin their defence against Wairarapa at Nelson Park, Napier.
In his third season at the helm, he expects Manawatu and Taranaki to be their main threats.
"Unfortunately, some of their CD Stags are missing with New Zealand A in India," he says of George Worker, Tom Bruce, CD captain William Young and Seth Rance.
"On the other hand, that's all right because we're happy to see them play up another level so it gives someone else the opportunity to step up here."
Schaw says it's unfortunate some players have missed out on the Bay Chapple Cup side early in the season.
"We've left some very good players out but I think throughout the season they'll be part of the squad anyway and they will play a number of games for Hawke's Bay.
"People have just got to realise when the Stags are available some very good cricketers will miss out so that's life."
Schaw says the Jacob Smith-skippered Bay are an attacking side but the nature of that beast means a couple of players will bat down the order to instil some mongrel in the top order.
For example, former under-19 New Zealand cricketer Christian Leopard will open the batting with Smith while Brad Schmulian is likely to come in at first drop.
"He's a kind of guy who'll hit a big ball and that'll give him a free range in the first 10 overs," says Schaw of Leopard, a Big Barrell Napier Technical Old Boys (NTOB) allrounder.
The way the white-ball game is heading he expects Bay players to mutate even more to conform to that format.
Fellow NTOB batsman Matt Edmondson will drop to the middle order for the cup and also assume the mantle of wicketkeeper, replacing regular gloveman Scott Schaw, of Ruahine Motors Central Hawke's Bay.
"Scott's missed out but that's no disrespect to what he's done last [season]," he says of his elder son who also kept wicket in the red-ball Hawke Cup campaign, the symbol of minor association cricket supremacy.
He expects Schmulian, a Bayley's Real Estate Havelock North player the club enticed from Auckland, should stamp his mark as well.
"Brad's a player that can tick the score and someone who can play in different ways, really."
Schaw says the batsman, who can offer spin if required, is someone they can build an innings around.
You Travel Taradale South African import Dean Foxcroft also caught his eye with the bat during the annual Kilbirnie Sports Twenty20 invitational tournament in the Bay a fortnight ago.
The former South Africa under-19 representative is making his debut for the Bay and, akin to fellow compatriot from CHB Giliam Christoffel (GC) Pretorius, has pledged his allegiance to New Zealand cricket.
"I was quite pleased with Dean in the twenty20 where he was pretty consistent with the bat so he's getting this opportunity."
Former Black Caps and current Central Districts Stag seamer Doug Bracewell will spearhead the Bay bowling attack when they opened their campaign against Wairarapa on Friday.
Fellow Stag Blair Tickner and NTOB seamer Stevie Smidt will back Taradale's Bracewell.
"Stevie will be a huge asset to us through to the longer version of the game," he says of Smidt who grappled with his injury demons last summer after returning from a stint in England but his deliveries were almost un-playable in the T20 tourney. "He's pretty handy with the bat, too."
Schaw says CD and Taradale left-armer Ajaz Patel and Angus Schaw, of CHB, will be the tweakers in the equation.
"GC is very unfortunate to miss out but Ajaz is the master of the game in CD so we're pretty lucky to have him available for the weekend."
He feels managing the Stags' workload is crucial over the weekend.
For Schaw, a more clinical approach to fielding is on the agenda this summer after some whoopsie-daisies last season.
"We have very high expectations so we're a side who have pride in our fielding and I believe we let ourselves down a little bit last [season]."
After all the rain in the week, it is anticipated teams will shine the ball if they win the toss.
However, Schaw suspects it may become a little harder to bat on later as well.
"I think sometimes it can be better to bat first, to be honest, to put runs on the board but, certainly, it'll be a bowler-friendly deck."
■ HAWKE'S BAY: Jake Smith (c, Cornwall), Doug Bracewell (Taradale), Matt Edmondson (NTOB), Dean Foxcroft (Taradale), Christian Leopard (NTOB), Ajaz Patel (Taradale), Angus Schaw (CHB), Brad Schmulian (Havelock North), Stevie Smidt (NTOB), Ben Stoyanoff (Taradale), Blair Tickner (CHB), Graeme Tryon (Havelock), Todd Watson (NTOB).
Coach: Colin Schaw.
Manager: John Jowsey.