Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby team's utility back Stacey Ili reckons he picked the wrong week to return to the Bay and his Napier Old Boys Marist club.
"The NOBM coaches weren't happy with how they played last weekend so there was a lot of fitness work on Tuesday night ... we got punished," Ili recalled with a laugh.
However, he admitted it was just what he needed after having not played since turning out for the Singapore-based Asia Pacific Dragons in exhibition matches for the Global Rapid competition early last month. His arrival this week means he will meet the three-game criteria to be eligible for Maddison Trophy semifinals.
Ili, 28, is hoping to have up to 30 minutes off the subs bench for WIT Napier Old Boys Marist in today's Tui Maddison Trophy seventh round clash against Progressive Meats Havelock North at Park Island, the feature match of the NOBM's club's club day.
A former Auckland representative, Ili, played 10 first class games for the Magpies last year, nine at centre and one at first five-eighth, all in the starting XV. He has signed another one-year deal for this season.
"I was asked to sign at the end of last year but I wanted to see if I could make the Samoa team for the World Cup so I held off. I still don't know how close I got to World Cup selection but I couldn't wait to get back to the Bay ... it's a nice and slow lifestyle here," Ili said.
He has heard there will be a bit more competition for Magpies backline berths this season with Crusaders squad member Caleb Makene returning to his home province and former Chiefs and Hurricanes speedster Sam McNicol available.
"I'll play in whatever position is best for the team. As long as I play and help the team win. While I prefer 12 or 13 I'll play 10 if I need to cover," Ili explained.
"Obviously the goal this year is to try and get the Magpies promoted to the Premiership."
Ili arrived in the Bay after the club season finished last year and is looking forward to helping the Green Machine complete their season.
"They are looking good in the Maddison Trophy round. Hopefully I can bring something to the table and help them get over that final hump and get the trophy back."
McNicol, 23, will be playing his first match since turning out for the Magpies in October 2017 against Manawatu. Since then he has had a long battle with concussion.
The last of his many head knocks, McNicol estimates he's sustained between six to eight concussions since leaving Napier Boys' High School in 2013, came in January last year at the Chiefs' pre-season training. While McNicol didn't want a fuss made of his return Ili said McNicol has looked sharp at training and is eager to get back on the field.
Today is a big day for the Ili family. After Ili has attended the after-match function he will be off to Taradale's Pettigrew-Green Arena to support his brother, Tall Blacks, New Zealand Breakers and Wellington Saints basketball guard Shea Ili, in Saints NBL top-of-the-table clash against the Bay Hawks in Taradale's Pettigrew-Green Arena.
"I suppose I'll have to yell for Shea's team," Ili added with a grin.
NOBM head coach Craig Gowler has been impressed with the energy levels Ili and McNicol have brought to training this week. He admitted the depth throughout his squad, particularly in the backs, is creating plenty of competition.
Former Magpies halfback Zac Donaldson and fellow regular Hawke's Bay Sevens rep Mitch Drew join Ili on the bench as Gowler's starting backline will be former Magpies halfback Ellery Wilson, experienced pivot Johnny Lauano, Chilean Pedro Benzanilla-Corte and McNicol in the midfield, Michael Buckley and Saia Paese on the wings and Liam Edwards at fullback.
Gowler has so many talented backs to call on and Paul Bickle and Bain Champion will play for NOBM's reserve grade side today. Loosie Ricky Hayes returns from injury today and will get game time off the pine.
"We're all pretty excited but at the same time we know how good this Havelock North side and they will be out to redeem themselves after losing to MAC last weekend," Gowler said.
The villagers are desperate to remain in the top four in their 125th anniversary year and that desperation should see them stay within 11 points of their hosts.
In what should be another close encounter, Auto Super Shoppe Hastings Rugby and Sports will host Taradale Rugby and Sports at Elwood Park. Both teams know the winner of the match will have a good chance at securing a home semifinal while the loser will likely have an away semifinal.
Taradale have sufficient depth to win by six points. A similar margin is expected but in the hosts favour when MAC host Tamatea in the feature match of MAC's club day at Flaxmere Park.
Tamatea will be boosted by the availability of former MAC and Magpies prop Mason Kean and loosies Ivan Bellamy, Asa Newton and Sheridan Kite who all missed last weekend's 48-12 loss to Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports.
"We should have 22 players this week [they only had 16 last weekend] and we're going there with the aim of spoiling their club day celebrations," Tamatea head coach Levi Armstrong said.
Defending champions Tremains Andrew Clark Clive have to secure the maximum five competition points when they host Tanalised Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports at Farndon Park to keep their slim semifinal hopes alive. The visitors have enough ammunition to sneak in by seven.
Northfuels Central will also be in club-day mode when they host Altherm Window Systems Napier Technical at Waipukurau's Central Park. With both teams out of semifinal contention they have the potential to produce a thriller appropriate to the occasion although it will be interesting to see if the Texans keep some of their gun powder dry for their round four catch-up match against Hastings Rugby and Sports at Petane Domain on Wednesday night.