When Alex Ainley takes the field for tonight's Mitre 10 Cup championship final it will be his 100th match in the competition - a milestone that very nearly didn't happen.

The Bay of Plenty Steamers face the Hawke's Bay Magpies in a home game final at Rotorua International Stadium tonight.

Bay of Plenty's last national title was 1976 when they won the inaugural National Provincial Championship.

Since then they have won two second division titles (1978 and 2000) but are yet to win a Championship or Premiership of the Mitre 10 Cup.


The last time the two teams faced each other was the Battle of the Bays clash at Tauranga Domain last month, with Bay of Plenty winning 51-24. The team that wins tonight's final will be promoted into the premiership next season and Ainley would love to help make that happen for his teammates.

If successful the Bay of Plenty rugby milestone will add to Ainley's personal achievement of 100 games in the competition, an accomplishment he's been trying to sweep under the carpet.

"I'd much rather win the championship than have 100 games more just for the boys, for Bay of Plenty, the boys trained really hard this year and deserve to win," the Steamers lock said.

"Some of the players that have come through the ranks are really shining at the moment, guys like Emoni [Narawa] and Baden [Wardlaw] who has signed up with the Blues ... they're playing such good footy and it's awesome to play with them," he said.

"It's a nice change coming into a team that's a little bit older, like our forward pack at the moment there's a lot of experience there and playing with a few older heads is fun, not saying that they're anything like my age at 38 but there are a few guys in their 30s there and there's experience. We just get our backs some good clean ball and they do what they do."

A former Tasman Mako captain and four-season Highlander, Ainley moved to Tauranga in January from Nelson with his wife Michelle and their children Emilia, Kaiya and Baxter, finishing the 2018 season having played 92 Mitre 10 Cup matches. He thought he was done playing at that point.

"It's obviously been a while coming - 11 seasons - and at the end of last year I was on 92 and I kind of hung my boots up and I was done."

A friend of his encouraged him to play club rugby with Rangiuru and was approached by Bay Steamers coach Clayton McMillan to join his squad.


"It took a while to convince me as well actually but I'm glad I made the change because they're a good bunch of lads and it is good to finally play the hundy."

He's excited to reach the final with Bay of Plenty, with the win being his main goal and focus.

McMillan says Ainley's made a huge contribution to the Bay of Plenty campaign this year, recognising his 100th game is a monumental achievement.

"If you watch him during a game, you see his true value and our guys have learned a lot from him. To play 100 games is a great achievement."

"Alex has had a long history at Tasman and probably this time last year, he didn't see himself getting to 100 games, and was quite prepared to hang up the boots.

"But we are grateful he had a change of heart.

Another Steamer reaching a special milestone is Jason Robertson, who plays his blazer game (15) tonight.

Bay of Plenty Steamers to play Hawke's Bay:
Aidan Ross (C) (35)
Nathan Vella (8)
Ross Geldenhuys (18)
Baden Wardlaw (19)
Alex Ainley (7) (99)
Tom Franklin (15)
Mitch Karpik (26)
Hoani Matenga (18)
Richard Judd (27)
Dan Hollinshead (35)
Joe Ravouvou (8)
Chase Tiatia (46)
Mathew Skipwith-Garland (18)
Fa'asiu Fuatai (17)
Emoni Narawa (12)
Kurt Eklund (11)
Chris Eves (3)
Jeff Thwaites (41)
Aaron Carroll (20)
Hugh Blake (35)
Leroy Carter (10)
Jason Robertson (14)
Pryor Collier (6)
Team subject to change