IT'S easy to appreciate the irony when comparing Hastings Rugby and Sports premier team hooker Jacob Devery with his Napier Old Boys Marist counterpart Jack Nelson-Murray.
Devery, 20, who has got the jump on Nelson-Murray, 21, in the tussle for a Hawke's Bay Magpies Mitre 10 Cup contract, will attempt to taste Tui Maddison Trophy glory for the first time when their respective teams clash in today's McLean Park final. Should the Green Machine prevail, Nelson-Murray will be having a celebratory sip or two out of the trophy for the third time.
An ASB Bank customer services officer, Nelson-Murray played in the NOBM teams which won the 2016 and '17 finals and lost last year's to Clive. One of three members of the NOBM squad who were in the 2015 St Pat's Town 1st XV which won the Wellington College Premiership, Nelson-Murray, is the oldest player in NOBM's front row.
"It feels different this season. Last year there was a lot of pressure on us because we were trying for three-in-a-row.
"This year there is more excitement about it again."
Nelson-Murray refused to buy into the favourites' talk.
"Hastings have a pretty strong team but we're still confident and I prefer to let the footy do the talking."
He admitted to being disappointed at missing out to Devery in the battle for the third-string hooker's role in the Magpies squad behind Maori All Black captain Ash Dixon and New Zealand under-20 captain Kianu Kereru-Symes.
"At the same time Jacob is a good player and credit to him. I just need to keep playing well, focus on my game and control what I can control. I know I need to work on my lineout throwing and scrummaging as this is only my second year as a hooker," said the former loosie.
"You only learn scrummaging with more time in the position. I need to get pumped a few more times. Jacob is a good all round player. He is the best lineout thrower in Hawke's Bay and he's a little bit bigger than me," Nelson-Murray added.
Devery, who made seven first class appearances for the Magpies in his first year out of Hastings Boys' High School in 2017, said his whole club is stoked his team is in their first Maddison Trophy final since 2012 and there is no shortage of confidence about their chances of winning for the first time since 1999 when the trophy was shared with Clive.
"There's a bit more composure there this season than in previous years. It has all come together well," Devery said.
The Flaxmere Primary School teacher aide isn't getting carried away with his selection ahead of Nelson-Murray in the Mitre 10 Cup squad.
"Hopefully I can stay there but I still have to keep training hard and do my bit. I still need to work on dominating the contact area and improving my fitness."
Devery was impressed with how the Hastings pack went in their semifinal win against Taradale Rugby and Sports.
"We knew the game would be won in the battle of the two forward packs. After a shaky start our pack came together and nullified Taradale's.
"If we can do that again this weekend we can reduce the amount of time Napier's classy backs have the ball," Devery added.
NOBM head coach Craig Gowler said his troops have prepared in the best possible manner.
"The boys are pretty excited and it's going to be one hell of a game."
"Hastings have been the improved side in the competition and with their Super boys back they have a fantastic team. Obviously we are going to have to deny them the ball as much as possible to have a chance of winning," Gowler added.
His team will miss the services of loosie Hannon Brighouse and Magpies backs Stacey lli and Sam McNicol who are all on the injured list.
During their last 10 games in the Maddison Trophy competition NOBM scored 608 points while leaking 212. Hastings Rugby and Sports scored 369 while leaking 214.
However those points will have little impact on the outcome of today's game. Hastings have peaked at the right time and proved with their semifinal win against Nash Cup winners Taradale Rugby and Sports they are capable of receiving the winners' medals today.
Even without Highlanders loosie Marino Mikaele-Tu'u and Magpies prop Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe, who are on the injured list, Hastings have enough ammunition to win by three to six points. Mikaele-Tu'u has a stress fracture in a shin and will be out of action for at least six weeks. Tavita-Metcalfe has a quad problem.
Hastings manager James Rosenberg said his troops have adopted a similar approach to build-up to the previous week's semifinal, placing heavy emphasis on their scrum and defensive work.
"If we do the basics right and minimise our mistakes we should be right. Obviously Danny [Hurricanes utility back Toala] will be the key for us. If he can direct play well from first five-eighth with his skills and tactical kicking that will help us a lot.
"I know there has been a lot of talk about referee Tipene Cottrell's appointment. Tipene hasn't been the best to us over the years but our boys just have to stay disciplined and let the captain [Magpies prop Jason Long] do the talking to the ref. We've got enough players from Hastings Boys' High School who know what finals footy is all about," Rosenberg added.
The 1pm curtainraiser will see Hastings Rugby and Sports take on Taradale Rugby and Sports in the Pat Ryan Memorial Cup colts final. Other finals will see MAC host Taradale Rugby and Sports in the tussle for the Premier Reserve grade's Jack Swain Cup at Flaxmere Park from 1pm and Hastings Rugby and Sports host Taradale Rugby and Sports at Elwood Park from 2.45pm in the battle for the Division Three Ron Parker Memorial Cup.
Teams for the 3pm Maddison Trophy final:
WIT Napier Old Boys Marist: Liam Edwards, Mitch Drew, Saia Paese, Pedro Benzanilla-Corte, Michael Buckley, Johnny Lauanao, 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, Paul Bickle, Sami Lauano.
Auto Super Shoppe Hastings Rugby and Sports: Penetana Smith, Neria Fomai, Timo Vaiusu, Antonio Mikaele-Tu'u, Mason Emerson, Danny Toala, Jayden Rihia, Manase Uaisele, Fale Matamata, Jardine Chung Ching, Lucas Albornoz, Jessie Lesa-Sipaia, Aleki Vuki, Jacob Devery, Jason Long (captain). Substitutes: Forwards, Miracle Lolofie, Aostasi Fa'avae, Joe Taafa, Jono Makris, Danya Tulou. Backs, Folau Fakatava, Shamara Brooks.