Powerhouses Napier City Rovers have cast out wide their purse seine nets to reel in talent from outside Hawke's Bay for their Central League soccer campaign this season.
"We've recruited a little bit outside from the region to complement the type of player base we've got in Hawke's Bay," says player/coach Bill Robertson of the Thirsty Whale-sponsored Blues who kick off in the opening round of the Lotto-sponsored winter premier league against promoted newcomers Integration Works Waterside Karori on Easter Monday.
Only seven players are returning from the squad from last winter for the 2pm kick off at the Bluewater Stadium, Park Island.
For the 33-year-old it's simply a sign of the times and the harsh realities of grooming talent before losing them to tertiary institutions outside the province.
A couple of import players haven't returned so the dynamics of establishing and retaining a core base has become tricky for the Rovers who finished mid-table last year.
It hasn't missed Robertson's attention that 11th-hour derby newcomers Building King Havelock North Wanderers also are fishing for talent in the Bay and nearby catchment areas.
Robertson suspects a few players who may have been interested in playing for Napier City Rovers may perhaps have given the Wanderers some thought.
However, the centreback sees advantages and disadvantages in the entry of two Bay contenders in the league.
"I hope all goes well in the development of players in the region but, like I said, the player base in Hawke's Bay isn't huge for people playing in Central League anyway so I just kind of feel that takes it out of the two squads maybe."
He echoes the sentiments of Team Taranaki counterpart Ian McGrath who withdrew from Central League this year with similar concerns over the dearth of homegrown talent to form the nucleus of his team but also try to maintain a sense of "local identity" in trying to recruit imports.
Lotto Federation League champions Havelock North accepted the "umpteenth hour" offer to step up as the losing finalists in Central League playoffs to promoted Waterside Karori.
He relates to McGrath's concerns on the time demand time placed on players to commit to travelling to play matches.
"In the later stages of their careers they tend to have families and other commitments that kind of take over so sitting in a bus of six hours along to Wellington and back is ... a huge factor."
That often prompts coaches to lure younger players to ensure they have a sound player base in the Bay.
Conversely, he emphasises, if clubs want to compete at an elite level than they can't complain and simply have to make the commitment.
Robertson says the Blues have to treat the Wanderers as foragers for the same resources even before their paths cross on the park.
Rovers host the villagers in a 1pm kick off in round 16 on Sunday, July 29, after they play them at Guthrie Park, Havelock North, in round 10 on Saturday, June 2.
Robertson will be up against former Blues and Bay United teammate and co-coach Chris Greatholder at the helm of the Wanderers in his second term.
"I have huge respect for him as coach and a person because he's a good mate of mine so there'll be some interest in there as well as the season goes on and when we'll play Havelock."
He is optimistic fans of the beautiful game will support the derbies to make the most of the occasions.
The bigger picture, in the long run, means exposing younger players to Central League football will help pave a more defined pathway from a reservoir of talent to fill positions in the Thirsty Whale Hawke's Bay United franchise team competing in the national summer league, the ISPS Handa Premiership.
"It has to be in the right environment. It's no good throwing them in too early and having them beaten heavily every week because that won't be good for their development."
Robertson's input as a player will depend on how the season shapes up and pans out with English import defender James Hoyle slipping on the captain's armband.
Veteran defender Fergus Neil is carrying a "long-term injury" and is unlikely to make an appearance even though he is named in the squad.
Last winter the Rovers had offered opportunities to homegrown talent but this year they've had to recruit to bolster their ranks to remain competitive with other powerhouses such as Miramar Rangers and Wellington Olympic, from Wellington, as well as Wairarapa United.
Defending champions Advanced Electrical Western Suburbs, under former New Zealand international coach Declan Edge, are the classic example of nurturing youth to incrementally go on to accomplish their mission after a few seasons.
Robertson says the Blues also have promoted some of their reserves players — midfielder Zac Madsen, 17, goalkeeper Dan Robinson, 18 — to join the likes of Lindisfarne College midfielder Karan Mandair, 17-year-old defenders Ethan Ladd and Kaeden Atkins.
The club has enticed Atkins from Napier Marist club across Clyde Jeffery Dr.
In their last pre-season hit out, the Blues played the Wanderers for an 8-0 victory in what Robertson considers ideal with most of his players available although he wasn't sure what the villagers' mindset was in terms of fielding a side last Saturday.
He welcomes the arrival of Waterside Karori as unknown quantities after seeing them beat Havelock North 2-1 at Guthrie Park in the Central League home-and-away promotion encounter in August last year.
"I actually watched the playoff games when they played Havelock last season but I would like to think they will have some different players involved [this season].
"I don't know too much about them but, I guess, our focus is on what we do initially because we don't tend to worry about oppositions too much."
(Number denotes shirt)
1 Ruben Parker Hanks (GK), 2 Chris McIvor (midfielder), 3 Liam Schofield (defender), 4 Drew Matthews (midfielder), 5 Kaeden Atkins (defender), 6 Jamie Wilkinson (defender), 7 Sho Goto (midfielder), 8 Karan Mandair (midfielder), 9 Martin Bueno (striker), 10 Patryk Misik (midfielder), 11 Wes Cain (striker), 12 Ethan Ladd (defender), 14 Josh Stevenson (striker), 15 Jim Hoyle (c, defender), 16 Danny Wilson (defender), 17 Fergus Neil (defender), 19 Bill Robertson (defender), 20 Zac Madsen (midfielder), 21 Dan Robinson (RGK).
Coach: Bill Robertson.
Ast coach: Stu James
Team manager: Greg Wall.
Team manager: Jim Neil.
Physio: Alex Gardiner.
Video analyst: Tim Motu.