The Hawke's Bay Rugby Union will start the 2022 rep season in the financial black for the 23rd year in a row – a feat not even the national body has managed to achieve.
Despite the vast impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic – which for the past two years has decimated the financial books of many sports bodies across numerous codes in New Zealand and around the globe – the union has posted its 23rd successive profit.
It is the only rugby union in the country to be able to do that; including New Zealand Rugby (NZR).
The latest profit comes on the back of the union receiving about $2.4 million in corporate sponsorship last season.
And the financial position is another boost for the Magpies – and their fans – as they prepare for both the 2022 Bunnings Warehouse NPC and launching their mission to retain the Ranfurly Shield.
"We are in a good place," HBRU chief executive Jay Campbell told the Herald.
"Twenty-three profits in a row is something we are very proud of.
"Rugby means a lot to our community and it is important that we perform well on and off the field. I think we are bucking a lot of the trends in rugby, including financially. Hawke's Bay does come with a lot of advantages . . . people love their rugby and it is a region where the sport is still a huge thing in the area.
"Pre-Covid we were getting 10,000-11,000 to our games . . . we would be the envy of some of the Super Rugby clubs for those turnouts."
Like other provincial unions, the HBRU has had to endure two seasons of uncertainty; including fixtures being delayed, then matches being played in virtually-empty stadiums due to earlier Covid-19 crowd size restrictions.
That lack of ticket sales – which included Hawke's Bay's dramatic golden point Ranfurly Shield defence against Bay of Plenty last September – hit provincial unions hard.
"Covid was brutal . . . there was no way about that," Campbell said.
"Our sponsors have been absolutely unbelievable . . . including through Covid when some of our commercial sponsors were doing it even tougher than us, but stood by us."
Staff, including Campbell, took "significant cuts" from their salaries in a bid to help keep the union's balance sheet out of the red.
After two years of financial pain, provincial unions such as Hawke's Bay will get a welcomed cash injection if the proposed deal with US investment firm Silver Lake goes through.
Rugby officials will vote on the much-delayed deal next month.
If it goes ahead, Silver Lake will pay $200 million in return for 5 per cent of NZR's commercial assets.
The current proposal from NZR includes a sum of $20m to be shared amongst provincial unions.
Campbell said while the money would be hugely welcomed by provinces and club rugby, it wouldn't automatically result in answers to some of the biggest challenges facing the national game.
"Silver Lake is going to be fundamental in terms of cash injections . . . but we can not just [rely on that]."
That included the stark drop-off in player numbers in some regions and age-groups, and reluctance from a growing number of parents to allow their children to play due to concerns over potential concussions.
"There are some real challenges that rugby is facing," Campbell said.
"It is not like years ago when rugby dominated so much. There are so many options for children and teenagers now than to play rugby on a Saturday morning."
But the Silver Lake money would certainly help provinces strengthen their financial position, and work on initiatives to make the game a more attractive proposition for players of all ages and both genders to be involved in and remain in long-term.
"It is things like highlighting that with rugby you can gain friendships for life," Campbell.
"Something we are working hard on in the Hawke's Bay is also the women's game and making sure rugby is a welcome game for all."
Development pathways were strong in the province.
That included 26 of the 2021 NPC squad either completing high school in the region or having come through the HBRU's academy.
Many of those players are expected to be back in the black and white hooped jersey when the Magpies launch their latest defence of the Ranfurly Shield.
Hawke's Bay will play Meads Cup winners South Canterbury in the opening defence of the season on June 29. If successful, they will then host Poverty Bay on July 30.
Holding the shield was "huge" for the province, Campbell said.
"[But] one regret would be with Covid around we haven't been able to celebrate it fully," he said. "But we've had it for 18 months going on almost two years now."
Should Hawke's Bay, as expected see off the challenges from the two Heartland Championship teams, they will then put the Ranfurly Shield up for grabs in their second round NPC clash against Counties Manukau.
The Josh Syms-coached team would have to fend off challenges from the Steelers, North Harbour, Southland, Wellington and Tasman if they are to retain the famous sporting trophy at season's end.