Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports winger Kane Nepe-Apatu is the first to admit injuries have often got the better of him this season.
A wrist injury sidelined him for three matches during the Nash Cup segment of Hawke's Bay's premier club competition and a lower leg injury prevented him from playing in another three matches during the Maddison Trophy competition. His ability to fight back from these setbacks has been rewarded with a start on the left wing in Tanalised Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports sixth round Tui Maddison Trophy encounter against Tamatea at Tamatea Park, the feature match of his club's club day and 133rd birthday celebrations.
While the birthday should be motivation enough for the premiers to chase five competition points and keep their remote hopes of a semifinal berth alive Nepe-Apatu, 27, has an extra incentive to help deliver a victory for the hosts. It will be his 50th outing for the Pirate side he has represented since 2016 after four seasons with the Central premiers.
"Hopefully the weather holds up and it's a good day. But we will play to the conditions we are faced with," Nepe-Apatu said.
Although he regularly had stints in the midfield during his younger days which included a couple of seasons with the Onga Tiko colts, one of which was the Hawke's Bay championship-winning 2011 side, Nepe-Apatu prefers the wing role these days.
"You just catch the ball and do you what you want. You don't have to worry about putting your outsides into space," he said.
With his team 11 points off the top four with four games remaining before the semifinals, Nepe-Apatu agreed it's going to be a tough ask to qualify particularly with Hastings Rugby and Sports, Clive and Havelock North reaming after today.
"It's important we take things week by week and don't look too far ahead," Nepe-Apatu said.
The Karamu High School Te Reo Maori and Maori Performing Arts teacher has yet to taste Maddison Trophy glory and agreed it would be an ideal achievement to get his hands on the most prestigious trophy in Hawke's Bay club rugby before he steps down from the premier ranks.
"Making the semifinals with Pirates in 2016 was the closest I have got," Nepe-Apatu said, referring to a 25-22 loss to Taradale.
"We never reached the semifinals with Central and I consider that semifinal along with the colts championship won with Onga Tiko as the highlights of my career to date," he explained.
A Central Hawke's Bay College old boy who moved north because of his work commitments, Nepe-Apatu said several factors contributed to him selecting Pirates as his new club in 2016.
"I played with Hamish [Pirate co-captain Willis] at Onga Tiko. Some of my relations have played for the club in the past and I enjoy the family environment associated with the club."
Nepe-Apatu, who ranked Magpies and Hastings Rugby and Sports winger Mason Emerson as the toughest player he has marked in premier rugby, pointed out it was crucial his hosts don't take winless Tamatea too lightly today.
"They've given the likes of Havelock North and Taradale a good run for their money and led at halftime in both of those games."
Tamatea head coach Levi Armstrong said his troops will welcome the return of inside back Harris Solomon and winger Puk Kireka after recent injuries today. He said rumours suggesting both he and former All Black hooker Hika Elliot would play today weren't true.
"Hika is still nursing his neck injury and I won't be playing because I missed training with work commitments in Wellington."
Armstrong was rapt both Pirates and MAC want to host his side on their club day like Clive did four weeks ago.
"Hopefully we can spoil Pirates celebrations this week and MAC's next week," Armstrong added.
The hosts should give Nepe-Apatu a winning 50th by at least 11 points. Altherm Window Systems Napier Technical will also be in club day mode when they host Taradale Rugby and Sports at Whitmore Park. The Texans will do well to stay within 17 points of the visitors.
Auto Super Shoppe Hastings Rugby and Sports should remain on track for a semifinal berth with an 11 point win against defending champions Tremains Andrew Clark Clive at Farndon Park. Clive won't have the services of Maori All Black and Hurricanes outside back Jonah Lowe in the wake of his selection in the Canes 23 for tonight's match against the Blues in the capital.
With MAC out of the running for a semifinal berth it will be interesting to see how keen they are to harm the semifinal hopes of their more fancied opponents like Progressive Meats Havelock North who host them at Anderson Park. Havelock North should win by 10 points at least.
WIT Napier Old Boys Marist should remain top of the table with a 21-point win against Northfuels Central at Waipukurau's Central Park.