Taradale Rugby and Sports prop Jody Allen admits it's tough to compare this year's Mighty Maroons outfit with the 2007 and 2009 sides he tasted Maddison Trophy glory with.
"You can't compare them as the style of play has changed since back then. But this season's team is pretty young and pretty athletic. They are a good bunch of guys with awesome depth and a good brotherhood," Allen said.
Former Magpies prop Allen, 31, is back with the club he had eight seasons with from 2007 before leaving the Bay for a stint with North Harbour and heading overseas to play in Spain and the United Kingdom. He has played in their last five games and was a substitute for the Hawke's Bay XV in their win against the Manawatu XV at Napier's McLean Park on Wednesday night.
"I remember my last time with Taradale it was a rare occurrence to beat Havelock North. That had the likes of Ihaia West and his mates back then. It's time to get some pay back," Allen said, referring to today's feature Tui Maddison Trophy ninth round clash against Progressive Meats Havelock North at Tareha Recreation Reserve.
Allen and twin brother Juston linked up with the Hawke's Bay union's academy in their first season out of Gisborne Boys' High School in 2007. Lock-loosie Juston is still playing in Gisborne and hopes to make the Poverty Bay team again this season.
"I was heading back to Gisborne to play with Juston when I got the call from Taradale. Their Magpies prop Joe Apikotoa had returned to Wellington so there was a spot for me and a possible opportunity with the Magpies," Allen recalled.
"While the level in Spain wasn't too bad and we won a couple of championships I only played social rugby in the UK and the pace was a bit different. The lifestyle was good but I got up to 145kgs. I've been working hard with the Hawke's Bay trainers since I've been back and I've dropped 12kgs. I want to lose another 8kgs so I can have a playing weight of 125kgs," Allen explained.
"I know I might have come back and a bit late but I'm still negotiating with the Magpies coaches to see where I sit. There's another couple of club games at least as well as another couple of Magpies pre-season games I would like to be a part of. I'll be happy for anything."
He played the last of his 10 first class games for the Magpies in 2013.
"It's good to be back in the Hawke's Bay environment. Back in the day I was one of the young ones and now I'm one of the old guys," Allen remarked.
"While I prefer the tighthead role I have been playing both sides for Taradale. I even had a start at lock in England ... I'll play anywhere I'm wanted."
Taradale co-coach Tim Combs said Allen has been in impressive form and will make his fifth consecutive starting XV appearance today. He will combine with former Maori All Black prop Namatahi Waa and hooker Jacob Baker in the front row.
"As a team we want to keep the momentum going. We can secure a home semifinal and retain the Cooper-O'Dwyer Cup with a win this weekend," Combs said.
"We've been slowly building since the Tech game."
That's probably an understatement. Their 55-7 victory against the Texans, 56-31 win against likely semifinal opponents Hastings Rugby and Sports and 66-22 victory against Central last weekend suggests more than a slow build but Combs and his fellow coaches Paul Wise and Boys Carswell are too astute to allow themselves and their players to get too carried away or too far ahead of themselves in the wake of their 16 wins, one loss record to date this season.
"Jody is right. We have a great bunch of guys with some good depth but to be fair we don't have players with the X-factor who were around when he was last here," Combs said.
It's no secret that a good team of players can often do better than a team who rely on one or two X-factor-type players.
Combs pointed out the hosts will rest fullback Caleb Makene today. The former Crusaders, Canterbury and Tasman outside back had a full game on Wednesday night and the previous Saturday in the win against Central.
"Caleb has had a lot of rugby and needs a chance to put his feet up."
Taradale's superior depth off the pine should see the hosts sneak in by seven. In other games Tamatea will be doing well to stay within 25 points of WIT Napier Old Boys Marist at Bill Mathewson Park, Auto Super Shoppe Hastings Rugby and Sports have enough ammunition to beat Tanalised Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports by 19 at Tamatea Park, Altherm Windows Systems Napier Technical should pip MAC by seven at Whitmore Park and Northfuels Central are capable of beating Tremains Andrew Clark Clive by six at Waipukurau's Central Park.