The fact Havelock North No 8 Albert Hemopo hasn't scored a Hawke's Bay Magpies Mitre 10 Cup rugby contract yet is an indication of the tremendous depth among the loosies in the province.
"I'm still working hard for one. The next two or three weeks are crucial ... coming into final time are the games that matter," Hemopo explained during a smoko break while working in the boning yard at Progressive Meats in Hastings.
His outstanding display for Havelock North during their 24-6 Tui Maddison Trophy eighth-round win against Tanalised Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports at Anderson Park was another example of how keen he is for a contract. It was perfect timing too.
One of the contracted loosies, Napier Old Boys Marist's Hannon Brighouse, collected an injury in his team's win against Clive and had to withdraw from the Hawke's Bay XV's match against the Manawatu XV at Napier's McLean Park tonight. Hemopo, 25, was given the starting No 8 role tonight on the back of Saturday's performance.
Of more importance for Hemopo's villagers was the fact they secured a semifinal berth for the first time in three seasons regardless of the outcome of this weekend's ninth-round away clash against Taradale Rugby and Sports. All season they have made no secret of how desperate they are to taste Maddison Trophy glory in their 125th anniversary year.
"The team put it all together at the right time. After disappointing losses to MAC [29-25] and Napier Old Boys Marist [47-17] it was good to fight back with that win," Hemopo recalled.
With numerous blockbusting carries and a massive defensive workrate, Hemopo was always going to be the 17th weekly winner in the tussle to become the 2019 recipient of the McDonald's-Hawke's Bay Today Club Rugby Player of the Year. With one round of play remaining, Hemopo is three points behind the competition leader, Clive lock Donovan Mataira, and two behind Napier Technical lock Elijah Martin.
The Australia-raised Hemopo took a pounding from hard-nosed Pirate forwards Tom Nicol, Damien Scott and Hamish Willis.
"That will always happen when you put your hand up to run the ball like I do. That was a physical game for the whole 80 minutes," Hemopo said.
"Just because we have earnt our semifinal spot we're not going to ease up this weekend. We've got Taradale, who are right up there near the top of the table ... it should be another physical game. It's important I just try to play my part ... but the villagers are peaking at the right time and the boys are buzzing," Hemopo said.
The former Southern Districts Shute Shield level player in Sydney was confident his body will have recovered from the weekend in time for tonight's game. He was expecting to do a full day's work from 6am before heading to McLean Park.
It's obvious he has the same work ethic off the field as he has on it. The fact Hemopo is the only player from a top-four club among the top four players on the MVP competition's leaderboard is another indication of the huge progress he has made during his first season of club rugby in the Bay.
Should Hemopo miss out on a Mitre 10 Cup contract it won't be through not turning over every stone in his quest, and if he does he would have to be among the top two names on the standby list. Should Havelock North miss out on a final berth it definitely won't be through a lack of effort from Hemopo.
It will be interesting to see if the villagers have the services of Hurricanes No 8 Gareth Evans and New Zealand under-20s loosie Devan Flanders for their likely semifinal against Napier Old Boys Marist. A loose forward trio of Evans, Hemopo and Flanders would definitely put a dent or two into the Green Machine.
Best & fairest
Havelock North v Pirate: 3, Albert Hemopo (Havelock North); 2, Ted Symes (Pirate); 1, Trent Hape (Havelock North).
Hastings v MAC: 3, Aleki Vuki (Hastings); 2, Danny Toala (Hastings); 1, Everard Reid (MAC).
Taradale v Central: 3, Lester Maulolo (Taradale); 2, Jacob Baker (Taradale); 1, Namatahi Waa (Taradale).
Tech v Tamatea: 3, Ted Walters (Tech); 2, Simon Quickfall (Tech); 1, Elijah Martin (Tech).
NOBM v Clive: 3, Saia Paese (NOBM); 2, Hannon Brighouse (NOBM); 1, Donovan Mataira (Clive).
Leaderboard: 14pts: Donovan Mataira (Clive). 13pts: Elijah Martin (Tech). 11pts: Albert Hemopo (Havelock North), Paula Latu (MAC). 10pts: Saia Paese (NOBM). 9pts: Sean Skeet (NOBM), Eru Wano (Taradale), Jayden Rihia (Hastings), Lincoln McClutchie (Tamatea). 8pts: Zac Donaldson (NOBM), Ted Walters (Tech). 7pts: Liam Edwards, Hannon Brighouse (both NOBM), Jacob Baker (Taradale).