Triathlons, beach cricket and a semi-naked version of Masterchef have been behind Northern Districts' preparation for the 2011-12 season.

They returned from a nine-day team-building stint in Rarotonga last week, a tour designed to get them back into the provincial title race.

ND produced stellar results in their first two seasons under coach Grant Bradburn. In 2008-09 they won the one-day competition then defended it in 2009-10 and added the Plunket Shield.

However, no title was secured last season. They have also never won the HRV Cup - the potential pathway to Twenty20 riches with the Champions League and the exposure to Indian Premier League scouts.

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The team's motives for heading to Rarotonga were threefold. Bradburn has excellent links as a previous national coach; ND has a enjoyed an arrangement with the Cook Islands since 2002, sharing knowledge and equipment; and the Northern Districts Cricket Association recently signed a sponsorship deal with the Edgewater Resort and Spa on the Rarotongan waterfront.

The business side to the tour came in the form of fitness. Trainer Jason Wheadon was there to minimise the intake of pina coladas and battered fish.

Veteran Joseph Yovich, who enters his 16th campaign with ND, , says the regime started with early wake-up calls: "We have been put through a series of hard fitness sessions starting at 6am. It meant running up hills followed by more intense aerobic work."

The team was also required to unleash their inner Hamish Carter.

"We had a triathlon around the island," Yovich says. "A set of bikes were provided for a 20km ride, followed by a 9km run then a swim 200m offshore out to a buoy and back."

There was a spot of cricket. It involved a T20 match near a local beach. ND batted first, piling on 309 in 17.3 overs before the Cook Islands were dismissed for 141. The surf received a peppering and a box of balls was kept handy. Thanks to adept local swimmers they were easily found and returned, apart from the odd one that got stuck in the coral reef.

The Cook Islands have a population of less than 20,000 but it didn't stop big spenders turning up to the match in their corporate boxes.

"We observed the arrival of trucks with couches and barbecues on the back ready to watch," Yovich said. "There was also some footage of our domestic season."

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The team also participated in their own version of Masterchef where they tried to impress the judges, including manager Graeme Stewart's wife, by presenting the dishes in their bare, glistening torsos after the spate of fitness work. Whether it did the trick is debatable.

"We produced a mince dish which was voted the second best main," Yovich said hesitantly. "It took hours of prepping plus we lost a dozen eggs that fell off someone's bike on the way home. There was also bacon and cheese in there, plus a touch of greenery - capsicum and parsley, I think - to add to the flavour. However, it was a bit sloshy."