Judging by the smiles on Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby loosie Marino Mikaele-Tu'u's face at yesterday's Captain's Run one would have thought he had already won tomorrow night's huge Lotto prize of $16 million.
It was an indication of how happy he is to be on track for his first outing of the season for the Magpies when they host Taranaki in tonight's Mitre 10 Cup Championship seventh round clash at Napier's McLean Park.
"It's been a while and I'm looking forward to it," Mikaele-Tu'u said referring to the six weeks he spent on the sideline recovering from a shin injury collected while on Super Rugby duty with the Highlanders.
He was scheduled to have 20 minutes for the Hawke's Bay Saracens against the Wellington Development team last weekend but ended up with 40 after an early injury to one of the Saracens loosies.
"It was all good and I was pretty stoked with how the body responded," Mikaele-Tu'u said.
The two-season New Zealand under-20 rep who was a world title winner with the 2017 Baby Blacks hasn't been told how many minutes he will get tonight.
"We'll just see how the game goes. I'll just be stoked to get on and I won't mind whether it's at blindside flanker or No 8," Mikaele-Tu'u said.
"The boys have been playing well especially in the loose forwards. There's hard-out competition in our department which is good for the team."
With so many weeks on the sideline, Mikaele-Tu'u is well placed to explain why the Magpies are unbeaten and performing so well.
"The boys are gelling well, there is good coaching, good leadership and everyone is getting along. I can't fault the planning," Mikaele-Tu'u replied the twin brother of fellow Hastings Rugby and Sports club player Antonio Mikaele-Tu'u.
It's going to be a big night for their family as the twins' only sibling, 17-year-old sister Liana, will make her starting XV debut for the Big Barrel Tui when they host Taranaki in the 5pm curtainraiser.
"Mum [Laina] and Dad [Mike] are rapt for her as we all are. I'm sure Liana will be amped for it."
Contracted to the Highlanders for another season next year, Mikaele-Tu'u, is eagerly awaiting whatever minutes he gets during the remainder of the Magpies season and believed it will only take a couple of games for him to regain full fitness. He has done his homework on the Taranaki side and took note of the versatility in the forward pack.
"They have gone for a mobile pack. That's so they can keep up with us and also have the pace to support Waisake Naholo when he gets the ball out wide," Mikaele-Tu'u added with reference to the former All Black winger.
Meanwhile, lock Tom Parsons returns to the Magpies team tonight. Parsons missed last week's win against Waikato in Hamilton after becoming a father for the first time when he and partner Grace Ruddenklau welcomed daughter Charlotte into the world two nights before the match. Tomorrow night Parsons will replace Chiefs lock Michael Allardice who collected a shoulder injury in Hamilton.
"Michael could have played as it isn't serious but we decided to give it more time to recover," Magpies head coach Mark Ozich said.
The only other change to the Magpies starting XV sees Devan Flanders replace Gareth Evans at No 8. Former All Black Evans injured an ankle against Waikato but Ozich said he will be available for next week's match against Bay of Plenty in Tauranga.
Changes to the Magpies subs bench see Mikaele-Tu'u replace Flanders and Zac Donaldson replace Johnny Ika as the back-up halfback. Ozich pointed out the Magpies will wear black armbands as a mark of respect to Koro Mullins who died earlier this week. A long-time Aotea club supporter, Mullins, was the husband of Hawke's Bay Rugby Football Union board member Mavis Mullins.
Ozich is expecting a physical battle similar to what his unbeaten troops experienced in the 27-24 win against Waikato.
"Taranaki play a similar game to Waikato and with Stephen Perofeta back at first five-eighth they have got threats right across the park," Ozich said.
The Magpies again have the opportunity to extend their record for the most consecutive wins in a season. Their sixth consecutive win last week beat the previous record of five set in 2008 and 2010.
Naholo is the biggest of those threats Ozich was referring to. Fellow winger Jackson Ormond and second five-eighth Teihorangi Walden are others.
Former Magpies hooker Ricky Riccitelli and lock Leighton Price are among the experienced hands in the Taranaki pack. Tighthead prop Donald Brighouse is a brother of Magpies squad member Hannon Brighouse.
Teams for the 7.35pm clash:
Hawke's Bay Magpies: Caleb Makene, Neria Fomai, Stacey Ili, Danny Toala, Mason Emerson, Lincoln McClutchie, Folau Fakatava, Devan Flanders, Brendon O'Connor (vice-captain), Geoff Cridge, Tom Parsons, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Ben May, Ash Dixon (captain), Pouri Rakete-Stones. Substitutes: Forwards, Kianu Kereru-Symes, Jason Long, Joel Hintz, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Josh Kaifa. Backs, Zac Donaldson, Timo Vaiusu, Ollie Sapsford.
Taranaki: Jayson Potroz, Waisake Naholo, Regan Verney, Teihorangi Walden, Jackson Ormond, Stephen Perofeta, Lisati Milo-Harris, Pita Gus Sowakula, Tom Florence, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Mitch Brown (captain), Leighton Price, Donald Brighouse, Ricky Riccitelli, Chris Gawler. Substitutes: Forwards, Bradley Slater, Jarred Proffit, Kyle Stewart, Josh Lord, Johnny Faletagoa'i-Malase. Backs, Xavier Roe, Daniel Waite, Liam Blyde.