The off-again on-again Heartland Championship season has done little to dampen the spirits of the Horowhenua-Kāpiti team ahead of the first game against West Coast at Greymouth tomorrow.
NZR released the revised draw for the Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship season late last week, which now kicks off a month late due to Covid-19 restrictions.
HK coach Chris Wilton said the team was raring to go and perhaps fortunate to have lost just one player to work commitments due to the competition delay.
"It's [the delay] going to affect different teams in different ways depending on where they are geographical, with different industries and work commitments," he said.
His players had kept in contact with fitness drills via social media during lockdown so they would be ready to go just in case, which Wilton said was a credit to them.
"There is a heap of excitement about this weekend, especially with some players making their debut."
Wilton said the right call was made to have an extra week of training before the start of the competition to allow players to have another week of physical contact through training.
"Otherwise it might have been a health and safety issue," he said.
And Wilton couldn't be happier to have an away game first-up. It gave the team a chance to hit the road early, and that was always a good way to start a campaign.
And to be going to the West Coast during the middle of whitebait season was a stroke of luck, too, with locals there famed for their hospitality.
"A trip away is always good for the first game ... there are a lot of positives," he said.
Meanwhile, NZR's domestic competitions, which have been on hold since mid-August due to Covid-19, can resume under alert level 2, meaning all teams outside of Auckland, which remains at alert level 4, can return to play from Friday, September 17.
That meant the Meads Cup and Lochore Cup finals are now scheduled for the weekend of November 13.
NZR general manager community rugby Steve Lancaster was pleased to provide some certainty for fans, players, provincial unions and other stakeholders.
"It's an uncertain time for everyone, so to have matches scheduled for next weekend and some exciting Bunnings Warehouse NPC and Heartland Championship rugby to look forward to is a great result," he said.
"We are committed to playing all three domestic competitions in their entirety, and remain hopeful our teams in Auckland will be in a position to return to play in the coming weeks.
"It will be particularly pleasing to see the Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship kick off. Our rural communities missed out on supporting their teams last season and have been on hold again in 2021.
"Hopefully rugby can provide some relief during these challenging times."
Under Covid-19 alert level 2, all rugby activity throughout the rest of New Zealand can continue if Ministry of Health and NZ Rugby Covid-19 guidelines are followed, including restrictions on mass gathering, contact tracing and hygiene protocols.
HOROWHENUA-KĀPITI: 1 Robin Praat. 2 Keenan Gilson. 3 David McErlean. 4 Ryan Shelford (Captain). 5 Daniel Smith. 6 Joel Winterburn. 7 Aaron Lahmert. 8 Benedict Grant. 9 Jack Tatu-Robertsson. 10 Ash Robinson-Bartlett. 11 Lennix Tovo. 12 Tautau Kapea. 13 Andrew Knewstubb. 14 Willie Paia'aua. 15 Himiona Henare. 16 James Gilland. 17 Scott Cameron. 18 Simon Butler. 19 Kolonio Koto. 20 Thomas Barnsley. 21 Connor Paki. 22 Hamish Buick.
HOROWHENUA-KĀPITI'S HEARTLAND REVISED SEASON DRAW
Saturday, September 18: 2pm West Coast v Horowhenua Kapiti John Sturgeon Park
Saturday, September 25: 2.30pm Horowhenua Kapiti v North Otago Levin Domain Levin
Saturday, October 2: 2.30pm: Horowhenua Kapiti v East Coast Ōtaki Domain Ōtaki
Saturday, October 9: 2.30pm: Buller v Horowhenua Kapiti Victoria Square Westport
Saturday, October 16: 2.30pm: Whanganui v Horowhenua Kapiti Cooks Gardens Whanganui
Saturday, October 23: 2.30pm Horowhenua Kapiti v Thames Valley Levin Domain Levin
Saturday, October 30: 2.30pm: Horowhenua Kapiti v Wairarapa Bush Levin Domain Levin
Saturday, November 6: 2.30pm: Poverty Bay v Horowhenua Kapiti More FM Rugby Park Gisborne
MEADS CUP: November 13/14 Teams ranked 1v2
LOCHORE CUP: November 13/14 Teams ranked 3v4
5th and 6th Play-off: November 13/14.