Suggest to Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby prop Pouri Rakete-Stones he is having his best season in the Mitre 10 Cup and he nods his head.
"I'm stoked as and I'm getting plenty of game time. Making the Maori All Black team earlier in the year was pretty significant for building my confidence," Rakete-Stones said.
"Being around fulltime professionals and seeing how much time they put into their sport made me realise what I needed to do," the 2017 world champion Baby Black recalled.
One of the Maori All Black front rowers who taught him a few lessons was Tyrel Lomax, who Rakete-Stones will prop against when the Magpies host the Tasman Mako in tomorrow's Mitre 10 Cup crossover clash at Napier's McLean Park.
"I know Tyrel will be keen to track my progress. I've been looking forward to this game. As a prop we like to test ourselves against the best and of the props left behind in the Mitre 10 Cup in the All Blacks absence Tyrel would have to be ranked among the best two or three," Rakete-Stones explained.
"We put a lot of effort into the forwards this week. We know Tasman have got a good front row and an experienced pack. We've backed our forwards all season and apart from the loss to Bay of Plenty which was a learning curve we've gone pretty well," Rakete-Stones said.
There's no doubt his Maori All Black selection is paying off, as within the first three weeks of the Magpies season Napier Boys' High School product Rakete-Stones, 22, had signed a two-year Super Rugby contract with the Hurricanes. An outstanding achievement for the Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports club player who has played 27 first class games for the Bay and earnt his blazer for 1000 minutes in the sixth round win against Waikato.
"Super selection was what I was working for so I was stoked with that too. It's games like this weekend's you have to use to put your best foot forward to prove you deserve game time at Super level," Rakete-Stones said.
He pointed out the Magpies have benefitted from having a full week of training to go over plenty of detail after a weekend off to freshen up.
"It's definitely a big game. If the home crowd can help us get up and secure the top spot in the Championship that will give us a home final if we get that far further down the track," Rakete-Stones added.
The Magpies will miss the services of Hurricanes No 8 Gareth Evans and Chiefs lock Michael Allardice, who are carrying shoulder injuries.
"Both were regarded as 50-50 chances of playing. But we felt it would be better to hold them back and get them right for the following week's semifinal," Magpies head coach Mark Ozich said.
The return of Maori All Black and Hurricanes lock Isaia Walker-Leawere after a couple of weeks off will help compensate for Allardice's absence and he will get game time off the subs bench. New Zealand under-20s loosie Devan Flanders will replace Evans.
After his superb shift off the pine against Counties-Manukau Chiefs, utility back Tiaan Falcon will start at fullback for the Magpies. Regular fullback Caleb Makene, a former Mako, shifts to the right wing and regular right winger Neria Fomai will start at centre.
Ozich said Falcon has been extremely fast at training this week. Expect him to shine in the counter attacking role and also with his tactical kicking should the hosts need to relieve pressure and also play for more territory.
Ozich agreed the unbeaten Premiership leading Mako will provide ideal preparation before semifinal weekend.
"They will test us defensively. They've got a lot of firepower and we're going to have to make our tackles."
While the Magpies did well to reduce their missed tackle count to 18 against Counties-Manukau after conceding 27 in the loss to Bay of Plenty, 18 would be too many against a talented side like the Mako. The hosts will also need to reduce their number of penalties conceded as the 15 against the Steelers was too many.
While the Mako have rested former All Black loosie Liam Squire there's still plenty of quality in the visiting engine room with Lomax, former All Black prop Wyatt Crockett, Maori All Black lock Pari Pari Parkinson and former Crusaders No 8 Jordy Taufua. Every one of the Mako backs including fullback and captain Dave Havili and the Faingaanuku brothers, Tima and Leicester on the wings, will cause damage if they are not shut down early.
Teams for the 2.35pm match:
Hawke's Bay Magpies: Tiaan Falcon, Caleb Makene, Neria Fomai, Danny Toala, Mason Emerson, Lincoln McCutchie, Folau Fakatava, Devan Flanders, Brendon O'Connor (vice captain), Marino Miakele-Tu'u, Tom Parsons, Geoff Cridge, Namatahi Waa, Ash Dixon (captain), Pouri Rakete-Stones. Substitutes: Forwards, Kianu Kereru-Symes, Jason Long, Ben May, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Josh Kaifa. Backs, Zac Donaldson, Stacey Ili, Ollie Sapsford.
Tasman Mako: Dave Havili (captain), Tima Faingaanuku, Levi Aumua, Alex Nankivell, Leicester Faingaanuku, Mitch Hunt (vice captain), Finlay Christie, Jordy Taufua, Jacob Norris, Ethan Blackadder, Pari Pari Parkinson (vice captain), Quinten Strange, Tyrel Lomax, Andrew Makalio, Wyatt Crockett. Substitutes: Forwards, Hugh Roach, Ryan Coxon, Isaac Salmon, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Taina Fox-Matamua. Backs, Uchida Keisuke, Fetuli Paea, Jamie Spowart.