The question had to be asked of new Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby import Stacey Ili yesterday.

Could he do as much for the Magpies as his brother, Tall Blacks basketball guard Shea Ili, has done for the Wellington Saints in their three wins to date this season against the Hawks and could do again tonight if the Hawks don't D up on him big time in the NBL semifinal in the capital?

"Definitely," Ili replied before the Magpies Captain's Run on the eve of their pre-season clash against Waikato at Taupo's Owen Delany Park today.

"Shea is doing well. He is making us proud and working hard. I used to play basketball, just for fun at school," Ili said referring to their days at Onehunga High School in Auckland.


A utility back, Ili, 27, played Mitre 10 Cup rugby and sevens for Auckland before heading to the northern hemisphere to play for Irish team Connacht. He has signed a one-season contract for the Magpies and has been training with them for the past fortnight.

With three of last season's most experienced backs, Ihaia West, Richard Buckman (both playing overseas) and Sam McNicol (out with concussion issues) all unavailable Magpies head coach Mark Ozich has called upon Ili to provide experience and versatility.

"Stacey can play 10, 12, 13, wing and fullback and he's got a left foot. We spoke to Kieran [former Magpies coach and Connacht mentor Keane] and he told us Stacey ticked a lot of our boxes," Ozich said.

Hawke's Bay Rugby CEO Jay Campbell was just as delighted to secure Ili's signature.

"While we have adopted a policy of selecting players who have played in our club competition, Brad Weber aside, it is a very youthful backline so to be able to have someone of Stacey's maturity and experience across the entire backline will hold us in good stead as we progress through our campaign,'' Campbell said.

Although the midfield is Ili's preferred position he said he was happy to play wherever required and will start on the right wing today.

The father of a six-month-old son, Ili, said coming to the Bay was an easy decision to make.

"I wanted somewhere different and I hear it's always sunny here. Heaps of my friends have played under Mark [Ozich] and Josh [Syms] and they all said they are pretty good coaches so I'm keen to play for them. The Magpies players are very good too and with the likes of Lincoln McClutchie and Danny Toala there's plenty of comedians."


Ili pointed out playing for Connacht was a good experience.

"We missed out on the top four but the first season we must missed out on the quarterfinals in the European Championship Cup which is pretty big."

Ili is one of 10 players in today's starting XV who have yet to play first class rugby for Hawke's Bay. The others are fullback Toala, first five-eighth McClutchie, halfback Folau Fakatava, centre Sasa Tofilau, hooker Ben Power, prop Joe Apikotoa, locks Lui Luamanu and Sam Ulufonua and New Zealand under-20s flanker Will Tremain.

Winger Mason Emerson will captain the Magpies and prop Mark Braidwood is his vice captain. With the Bay's six Super players, captain Ash Dixon, halfback Weber, prop Ben May, outside back Jonah Lowe, loosie Gareth Evans and lock Michael Allardice on their compulsory two-week holiday and another seven players unavailable with injuries or club commitments today will be a final opportunity for fringe players to put their hand up before the Mitre 10 Cup squad is announced next week.

The Magpies team for the 1.30pm match is:
Danny Toala, Stacey Ili, Sasa Tofilau, Pasqualle Dunn, Mason Emerson (captain), Lincoln McClutchie, Folau Fakatava, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Will Tremain, Fa'alemiga Selesele, Sam Ulufonua, Lui Luamanu, Joe Apikotoa, Ben Power, Pouri Rakete-Stones. Substitutes: Forwards, Jacob Devery, Mark Braidwood, Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe, Solomone Funaki, Devan Flanders, Josh Kaifa, Nathan Tweedy. Backs, Ellery Wilson, Tiaan Falcon, Sebastian Visinia, Shae Tucker, Michael Buckley.
Unavailable: Jason Long, Tom Parsons, Hannon Brighouse, Geoff Cridge, Chris Johnston, Ricky Hayes, JJ Taulagi (all injured); Kianu Kereru-Symes (released to play for Tamatea); Ash Dixon, Ben May, Michael Allardice, Gareth Evans, Brad Weber, Jonah Lowe (on Super Rugby players two-week holiday).
The Hawke's Bay Saracens team to play the King Country Heartland team in the noon curtainraiser is:
Star Timu, Lester Maulolo, Timo Vaiusu, Kalin Paewai, Mikey Vuicakau, Tianua Poto (captain), Johnny Ika, Francis Ah Him, Damien Scott, Fale Matamata, Tomo Fogarty, Paddy Allen, Te Ririnui Kakau, Teremoana Joel, Sean Morrison. Substitutes: Forwards, Marcus Jackson, Terry Marsh, Jack Nelson-Murray, Tyler Symon-Bourke, Elijah Martin. Backs, Zac Donaldson, Jayden Rihia, Johnny Saifiti, Ted Walters, Saia Paese, Mitch Drew.