It's fair to suggest Hastings Boys' High School first XV rugby team's fullback Mercedes Hodge's inside knowledge on their Rotorua Boys' High School first XV opponents will be just as beneficial as his on-field class today.
A former Chiefs under-18 squad member, Hodge, is in his first year in the HBHS first XV after having two years in the St Paul's Collegiate first XV in Hamilton. He knows plenty about the Rotorua side who sit equal first with HBHS on the Super 8 points table with three wins from as many outings.
"With Carlos Karaitiana, who is a first-season Rotorua player after transferring from Hamilton Boys, and Manu Paea they have a strong midfield and first five-eighth Tome Poona gives them a strong kicking game," Hodge explained.
"We can beat Rotorua if we get our defence right and look after their big ball carriers. We need to have good line speed so we can make dominant tackles. We need to stick to our game plan too."
A former Hamilton City Tigers age group league player and second XV cricketer at his former school, Hodge, was totally honest about the reasons for his move to Hastings.
"There were niggles at school and at home so I got in touch with Mr Bird [HBHS manager Jason Bird] who told me there were no guarantees but I could give the Hastings team a crack. I'm rapt to be one of 10 players from our team in the Hurricanes under-18 squad and I'm aiming to make either the New Zealand Secondary Schools or New Zealand Maori under-18 teams this season," Hodge said.
A huge fan of All Blacks fullbacks Ben Smith and David Havili, Hodge, who intends to study physiotherapy at university next year, knows what he needs to work on if he is going to tick off his individual goals this season.
"Connecting with my wingers through more communication and my phase kicking play."
He has heard talk suggesting this season's HBHS team can match the feats of the 2017 National Top Four title winners.
"I'm confident we can go all the way. We've got good coaches, a good leadership group and some skilful players."
We couldn't leave Hodge without asking him about the origins of his first name.
"Mercedes is my mum's favourite car," he replied referring to his mother Iris.
At the same time as this match is being played, Napier Boys' High School will host Hamilton Boys' High. NBHS coach Brendon Ratcliffe is expecting a big match from centre Jack Sheridan, a late addition to the Hurricanes under-18 squad for next month's training camp in Napier.
"At 103kgs and 1.88m tall Jack has a unique size for centre and he has a very complete skillset. So more than a just a big banger in the midfield. Very good on his feet, deft handling and distribution skills, an outstanding instinctive offloader. Like Tyrone Thompson last year, Jack hasn't had a lot of recognition with rep squads and local academies etc but he is one of our most consistent and influential performers and has got a real future ahead of him in the game," Ratcliffe said.
A second-season first XV player, Sheridan, 17, played for the Sky Blues in last year's 23-22 Super 8 final loss to Hamilton in Hamilton. He is expecting another tough encounter and knows what's required if the hosts are going to produce an upset.
"Good defensive line speed and working together on defence."
A product of the Napier Old Boys Marist age group system, Sheridan, was a two-try, player-of-the-match hero when NBHS beat Christchurch Boys' High School 31-12 in last year's National Too Four semifinal. He is keen for a second crack at national glory this season.
The 2014 Napier Ross Shield player and former Hawke's Bay under-16 development team player is planning to study Land and Property Management at Lincoln University in Canterbury next year.
Hawke's Bay teams for the 12noon games:
Hastings Boys' High School: Mercedes Hodge, Joeli Rauca, Andrew Hayward, Jordan Thompson-Dunn (co-captain), Eldius Oli, Latrell Ah Kiong, Phillip King-Panapa, Cooper Flanders, Daemon Brough, Connor Wadley (co-captain), Julian Goerke, Emil Crichton, Jeremiah Tuiatua, Jacob Dorward, Tini Nu'u. Substitutes: Manahi Goulton, Aloese Aiolupotea, Sam Joe, Fraser Taurima-Heperi, Donovan Godinet, Charlie Varcoe, Mefi Tupou.
Napier Boys' High School: Ethyn Martin, Afa Moleli, Jack Sheridan, Jayden Stok, Wesley Akeripa, Henry Williams, Angus Kilmister, Rakai Henare, Austin Soanai, Gala Malasia, Nick Ennor, Tom Lourie, Jake Ward, Iafeta Ma'a, Jayden Walker. Substitutes: Jock Kilmister, Mitchell Curran, Max Gerber, Rob Slabbekoorn, Hayden Saunders, Bethal Malasia, Michael Hoffman.