Rugged Napier Old Boys Marist rugby loosie Ricky Hayes is hungry for more Mitre 10 Cup minutes with the Hawke's Bay Magpies.
With a Magpies development contract Hayes, who made one appearance for the side as a substitute in 2017, knows he's only an injury or two away. With today's Tui Maddison Trophy semifinal against Havelock North at Napier's Park Island and a possible final Hayes, 21, has the ideal platform to push himself further up the pecking order.
The first-year apprentice with Devine Plumbing has an extra incentive to shine today. It will be his 50th appearance for the Green Machine.
"It's pretty cool to be celebrating my 50th in a semifinal. It will make it more special and it's always a good game against Havelock North," Hayes, who will start at blindside flanker today, said.
"This is my fourth full season with the premiers. I'm just stoked to be around the boys. It's a fun environment to be a part of."
A Taradale High School old boy and product of the Eskview club's age group system who proved early in his career one doesn't have to attend a Super 8 school to crack the first class scene, Hayes, knows what the hosts have to do to secure a fourth consecutive final berth.
"Play to our strengths. It's up to us forwards to provide fast quality ball for the backs. It's always good to get up from a ruck or out from a maul and see the backs have already finished off. That makes our job a lot easier."
He enjoys the physical aspect of his plumbing apprenticeship and said it help keeps him fit for rugby.
Later this month he will start a four-week training stint with the full Magpies squad, another opportunity to push for more Magpies minutes.
"After that it's a case of sitting by the phone and waiting for the call," he added.
NOBM head coach Craig Gowler said his troops won't be underestimating the villagers despite beating them 47-17 three weeks ago.
"We're not confident but we know if we play well we've got a good chance."
Havelock North manager Gary Revell said his club is thrilled to have their premiers, premier reserve grade and third division sides reach semifinals in their 125th anniversary year. He pointed out the premiers and premier reserves have relied on each other for players and the premier reserves deserve kudos for what they have achieved.
While loosie Tony Lamborn is unavailable with his United States team commitments and All Black and Hurricanes loosie Gareth Evans is still in rest mode after Super Rugby New Zealand under-20s loosie Devan Flanders has recovered from his concussion issues and is likely to start off the subs bench.
"Several players are out with injuries and they know we would not have got to the semis without them and while we are the underdogs we are quietly confident," Revell added.
Taradale Rugby and Sports will host Auto Super Shoppe Hastings Rugby and Sports in the other semifinal at Tareha Recreation Reserve. Taradale co-coach Tim Combs pointed out both teams are even in the skill department and agreed Hastings Super players can lift the pace of the game and provide some X factor.
"But the team which can hold their composure and stay calm will come out on top. We're confident we can do it."
Taradale's scrum with a front row of props Namatahi Waa and Jody Allen and hooker Noel Sanft should function well. The Mighty Maroons loose forward trio of in-form No 8 Iakopo Mapu and flankers Cristobal Niedmann and Eru Wano have the potential to rule the breakdown area.
Hurricanes and Magpies utility back Danny Toala will start at first five-eighth for Auto Super Shoppe Hastings Rugby and Sports. Highlanders loosie Marino Mikaele-Tu'u is doubtful with shin issues and has been bracketed on the subs bench with Jono Makris.
Highlanders halfback Folau Fakatava will be used off the bench. Hastings manager James Rosenberg said the visitors have rewarded halfback Jayden Rihia, the team's top try scorer this season with 16, with a start. Rosenberg pointed out new Argentinian lock Lucas Albornoz, who has slotted in well, flats with props Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe and Aleki Vuki.
"All three have been nagged by the flu this week and lost 15 to 20kgs between them. We're hoping they will be right by kick off."
"We've focused a lot on our scrum and discipline. We're confident," Rosenberg added.
Semifinal teams for 3pm games:
WIT Napier Old Boys Marist: Liam Edwards, Mitch Drew, Saia Paese, Stacey Ili, Michael Buckley, Johnny Lauano, Zac Donaldson, Matt Gardner (captain), Pouvi Fatialofa, Ricky Hayes, Sean Skeet, Tyler Symon-Burke, Patrick Teddy, Jack Nelson-Murray, Lee Moleili. Substitutes: Forwards, Terry Marsh, Chris Benson, Matt Thompson, Migao Lauano. Backs, Ellery Wilson, Pedro Benzanilla-Corte, Sami Lauano.
Progressive Meats Havelock North: Ryan Tongia, Anzelo Tuitavuki, Will McGoon, Kalin Paewai (captain), Trent Hape, Adam Blake, Isaac Paewai, Albert Hemopo, Jacob Stephenson, Shane Cusack, Patrick Allen, Phil McRoberts, Simote Tuitufu, Matt Morrison, Jasper Wylie. Substitutes: Forwards, Wayne Lush, Paea Taulanga, Devan Flanders. Backs, Matt Hill, J'ndre Liebenberg, Kisione Lama, Farani Tupai.
Taradale Rugby and Sports: Caleb Makene, Ashton Tuck, Ollie Sapsford, Lester Maulolo, Junior Malielegaoi, Brad Truesdale, Humphrey Sheild, Iakopo Mapu, Cristobal Niedmann, Eru Wano, Mikaele Tapili, Andrew Gardner (captain), Jody Allen, Noel Sanft, Namatahi Waa. Substitutes: Forwards, Jacob Baker, Lolani Faleiva, Ian Rore, Angelo Mufana, Jordan Kupa. Backs, Thomas Eden, Grayson Ewart.
Auto Super Shoppe Hastings Rugby and Sports: Penetana Smith, Neria Fomai, Timo Vaiusu, Antonio Mikaele-Tu'u, Mason Emerson, Danny Toala, Jayden Rihia, Danya Tulou, Fale Matamata, Jardine Chung Ching, Lucas Albornoz, Jessie Lesa-Sipaia, Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe, Jacob Devery, Jason Long (captain). Substitutes: Forwards, Miracle Lolofie, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u/Jono Makris, Aleki Vuki, Aostasi Fa'avae, Manase Uaisele. Backs, Folau Fakatava, Shamara Brooks.