Taradale fullback Manihera Eden reckons one doesn't have to be a school leaver to crack the Hawke's Bay Magpies Mitre 10 Cup rugby squad for the first time.
"That's why I've come home. I didn't want to regret not giving the Magpies one more crack. That's my long-term goal and my first goal is to help Taradale try to win the Maddison Trophy ... it's been 10 years since we've had it," Eden said on the eve of today's first round in Hawke's Bay's Tui Nash Cup premier club rugby competition.
"I know a lot school leavers have made the Magpies during the last couple of seasons but you don't still need to be 17 or 18 to make the cut. You can still get the opportunity through the club system and there are still a lot of talented club players who aren't getting a final crack but I have heard the new Magpies coaches are happy to bring club players through if they're good enough."
"At the same time there are some talented school leavers from Taradale High School at our club who are good enough to be looked at too. They have a lot of talent and are just as good as players from Napier Boys' High School and Hastings Boys' High School," Eden said.
The 25-year-old former Hawke's Bay under-20s (2012 and '13), Hawke's Bay Academy, Hawke's Bay under-16s and Hawke's Bay Ross Shield rep, Eden, last played for Taradale in 2015. Since then he has had two playing stints in Ireland as well as seasons of union and league in Perth. Eden played for the Armagh club in Ireland's 2B division and Ballynahinch in Ireland's 1A division.
In 2016 Eden played for Perth Spirit, the development squad for the old Western Force Super Rugby franchise as well as the Western Force 10s. In 2017 he had a spell from playing and last year Eden played centre for the Fremantle Roosters Rugby League club which won Perth's premier club title.
Eden was the top tryscorer for the side with 22 in 14 games.
"Playing centre was good for my defensive skills ... I was up against some big boys," Eden recalled.
"While fullback will be my main position with Taradale I will also be covering 9 and 10. Hopefully that versatility will help my Magpies chances," Eden said.
"There is plenty of depth at Taradale this season. That means you are competing for spots instead of just being given the same jersey every week. It looks like there will be good competition between the first and second grade teams too."
When Eden was reminded Taradale will have the services of current Crusaders squad outside back and former Tasman, Canterbury, New Zealand 20s and New Zealand Schools player Caleb Makene during the Maddison Trophy rounds he was quick to reply:
"I'll have the No 22 jersey ready for him."
A labourer for MPT Concrete, Eden, is looking forward to some feedback from Magpies coaches Mark Ozich and Josh Syms after Taradale take on Tanalised Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports at Tamatea Park today.
"That's the advantage these days ... all of the premier club games here in the Bay are filmed and then coded for the Magpies coaching staff."
Taradale will attempt to retain the Jenkinson-Leadbetter Cup which has been played for between the two clubs since 2005. It is named after Taradale club stalwart and long-serving Magpies team assistant manager Brian Jenkinson and his good mate and former Pirate club president Derek Leadbetter who died last year.
"This is the first time we have played since Mr Leadbetter died. I know Pirates will be fired up. They always find some extra energy against Taradale. It will be a huge game and I'm looking forward to it. Taradale were full of confidence and enthusiasm at training this week," Eden said.
He has been impressed with how 2017 New Zealand Schools halfback and former NBHS first XV co-captain Humphrey Shield has fitted in to the Mighty Maroons programme.
"Humphrey's basic skills and communication skills are first class. We've got four Samoan boys who are ready to do some damage, we've got our experienced boys like Red [captain and No 8 Andrew Gardner, Angelo Mufana and Ellery Tareha. We've got new winger [Grayson Ewart] who I've got high hopes for.
"Like I said earlier ... we've got so much depth that if one of our starting XV players goes down with an injury we won't lose any grunt when he is replaced."
Taradale have a new coach in Boyd Carswell who has replaced former Magpies captains Jason Shoemark and Mutu Ngarimu. Former Maddison Trophy-winning player and coach Andy Lord has replaced Pouri Rakete-Stones snr at the Pirate club and he will have former Taradale colts assistant coach Spencer Bethell as his assistant.
Taking their superior depth into account Taradale should sneak in by nine points or less. Nash Cup holders WIT Napier Old Boys Marist should beat last year's runners-up Altherm Window Systems Napier Technical by 11 when they clash at Park Island's Tremain Field.
MAC have enough ammunition to upset Maddison Trophy holders and traditional slow starters Tremains Andrew Clark Clive by six at Flaxmere Park.
Northfuels Central have sufficient fire power to stay within 12 points of an injury-hit Auto Super Shoppe Hastings Rugby and Sports at Waipukurau's Central Park and Progressive Meats Havelock North are capable of a 14-point win against Tamatea at Bill Mathewson Park.