Opponents of MAC utility back Johnny Ika are quick to tell you he is one of the trickiest players to mark in Hawke's Bay's club rugby competition.

Former Tonga A representative Ika may only be 1.74m tall but he can step off either foot, beat a defender with a kick and chase and can operate on the smallest piece of real estate. His ability to surprise defenders with high-risk options which are made to look easy is top shelf.

Today he is hoping to surprise his parents Jack and Anau along with his two sisters and brother in Hamilton.

"I haven't told them I've been picked for the Magpies. I'm just going to turn up and tell them to come and watch me play," Ika said after being named in the Magpies side for tomorrow night's Mitre 10 Cup sixth-round crossover clash against Waikato at FMG Stadium in Hamilton.


The first player outside of the Magpies' 39-strong squad to get a call up this season, Ika, replaces Zac Donaldson, who is unavailable because of concussion. Ika, 27, knows he won't be able to return to the Heartland Championship if he gets on the field and is prepared to take that risk.

"Making it to Mitre Cup level has been a goal of mine for a while now. Hopefully I can make the most of my opportunity and can get to stay with the Magpies for the remainder of the season," Ika said.

He has been on loan to the King Country Rams for the past three weeks and has had two games. In both, a 34-12 win against Buller and a 37-31 loss to Wairarapa Bush. Ika had 40 minutes at halfback and 40 minutes at fullback.

The Rams coaching staff were impressed with Ika when he scored five tries, three in the halfback role and two from fullback, while playing for the Hawke's Bay Saracens in a 90-12 drubbing of the Rams last month. Tomorrow night he will provide halfback cover.

"I've only had two days of training with the Magpies and I'm enjoying it. The Super Rugby boys and everyone else have been really welcoming. I've been trying not to take everything on at once," Ika said before another training session yesterday.

Ika is in his second season in the Bay. In 2016, he made seven appearances for Wairarapa Bush and in 2017 Ika played club rugby for Moutere but didn't make the Tasman Mako side as then Mako head coach Leon MacDonald considered him too small.

"I'm happy to stay in the Bay and play some sevens in the summer to keep my fitness up so I can have another crack at a Mitre 10 Cup contract next year," Ika added.

This week's selection is proof his decision to accept a rugby scholarship to Tangaroa College in Auckland while at Liahona High School in Tonga was the right one.


After missing the win against Southland with a bout of the flu, Māori All Black and Hurricanes prop Ben May will replace Namatahi Waa in the Magpies tighthead role.

"Namatahi has had a big load and we need to manage his minutes in his first season back from his neck injury," Ozich said.

When the partner of Magpies lock Tom Parsons went into labour with their first child yesterday, Ozich and assistant Josh Syms made some late changes to the side originally named for the fixture.

"Their first child is more important than a game of rugby and it's important Tom remains at home," Ozich said.

Māori All Black and Hurricanes lock Isaia Walker-Leawere will replace Parsons in the starting line-up. Loosie Devan Flanders replaces Walker-Leawere on the subs bench and midfielder Timo Vaiusu is added to the squad.

Should Vaiusu take the field it will be his first-class debut.

"We were originally going to go with a six-two split on the bench but when Tom withdrew we decided to go with a five-three split," Ozich explained.

He agreed that Waikato, who have recorded two wins, two losses and a draw in their Premiership campaign, will be the toughest assignment for his unbeaten Championship outfit to date.

"While we have been going well it's easy at the same time to gloss over some of the detail. We will find out both physically and mentally where we are at this week," Ozich added.

Against Southland his troops missed 28 tackles, seven more than against Northland. This count will need to be reduced.

Considering the difficult weather conditions the 13 turnovers conceded against Southland wasn't a bad figure and the seven penalties conceded was also an acceptable figure.

The Hawke's Bay Magpies team is:
Caleb Makene, Neria Fomai, Stacey Ili, Danny Toala, Mason Emerson, Lincoln McClutchie, Folau Fakatava, Gareth Evans (vice-captain), Brendon O'Connor (vice-captain), Geoff Cridge, Michael Allardice, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Ben May, Ash Dixon (captain), Pouri Rakete-Stones. Substitutes: Forwards, Kianu Kereru-Symes, Jason Long, Joel Hintz, Devan Flanders, Josh Kaifa, Devan Flanders. Backs, Johnny Ika, Timo Vaiusu, Ollie Sapsford.