When you make the cut to the National Cricket Club Championship it's an honour in itself to be a representative of the best in one of the six major association districts.
Consequently none of the qualifiers should expect to roll up to become the country's best premier club team when the week-long competition begins at the Cornwall Park, Auckland, from today.
That's because the six contenders — Big Barrel Napier Technical Old Boys (Central Districts), Northeast Valley CC (Otago), Burnside CC (Canterbury), Pukekohe Metro CC (Northern Districts), Cornwall CC (Auckland), Onslow CC (Wellington) — know only too well that honour will be bestowed on the side who have a premier club competition at home that fosters excellence.
"I reckon it's the best we've ever prepared because a couple of guys who've had some injuries have got through those," said NTOB coach Dale Smidt yesterday before they caught their flight from Napier.
Of the 13 players, nine have played for Central Districts at under-17 level or above.
All, bar Angus Philpott and Sri Lankan import Indika Senarathne, are graduates of the club's junior programme.
NTOB last competed at the nationals in 2016 when they finished third.
"We're definitely a much stronger side than we were two years ago," Smidt said.
Former Black Caps cricketer Jesse Ryder "was very keen and very focused so that's great".
Ryder had a glorious start to the first-class season for the CD Stags in the Plunket Shield-winning campaign but was conspicuous in his absence in the last few rounds.
"We had a four-hour, open-wicket practice on grass at the weekend so that was quite handy," said Smidt before starting with "three tough games" in the limited-overs, white-ball competition.
"Otago are pretty stacked and we always know that the Canterbury champions are always good because they always have a very strong club competition down there," he said. "Like most sporting teams from Canterbury, they're well organised and well drilled."
It was a revelation to the Texans that Pukekohe Metro fall into the fragmented ND catchment area.
"We also know there's a former Tech player, Ash Vondala, plays for them and is a former NZ under-17 rep who played for us two years ago up there," said Smidt of the top-order batsman.
NTOB are relieved to be playing against hosts Cornwall whose South African import has returned home.
"That's a blessing because he was averaging 90 for them."
Smidt said the Auckland representatives also have top-order batsman Martin Guptill-Bunce who had first-class experience.
"They also have three or four Auckland A players so they'll be pretty strong at home in front of their own people and sleeping in their own beds."
NTOB have a score to settle with Onslow who they lost to in the annual Kilbirnie Sports Twenty20 competition in October last year.
"They beat us by one wicket in the last over so there wasn't much in that game," he said.
Smidt was optimistic about the forecast in the Big Smoke after a bleak outlook a few weeks ago.
"Well, fingers crossed. We'll probably get showers every day but then that's just Auckland," he said with a chuckle.
However, he sang the praises of Cornwall ground staff for their prowess.
The Hawke's Bay Cricket Association administrator felt the spinners would be the difference.
"The wickets will be low, slow and a little bit tired so we've got some decent spinners."
Smidt considered Ryder a competent off-spinner.
"He can probably bowl 35 overs of spin so I reckon that's going to be huge for us," he said.
Pay Excellence HB senior men's representative player, Jayden Lennox, is NTOB's No 1 tweaker and won the bowling award for the best average of 45 wickets at 12.18 runs an over at the HBCA prizegiving last week.
"Indika is outstanding at limited-overs cricket because he's pretty smart and never goes for too many runs," he said, adding young left-armer Philpott also can contribute to the arsenal.
"It just means we don't have to flog our seamers 10 overs every game for six consecutive games either.
"If the seamers just have to bowl three to four overs each day they'll get through the week quite well," he said, banking on captain Liam Rukuwai and fellow veteran Stevie Smidt, Christian Leopard and Todd Watson to share that load.
John Drake is bracketed to give first-choice wicketkeeper Matt Edmondson a rest as well.
Ryder will come in at No 5 in the batting order, behind Senarathne. Edmondson would be at first drop because of his ability to grind it out if things got tough or free up his arms to play shots if it was a good wicket.
"Christian will be at the top and he has a licence to go out to be a little aggressive."
Big Barrel Napier Technical Old Boys:
1 Liam Rukuwai (c), 2 Stevie Smidt*, 3 Jayden Lennox*, 4 Christian Leopard*, 5 Jesse Ryder*, 6 Indika Senarathne*, 7 Todd Watson*, 8 Izaiah Lange, 9 Angus Philpott, 10 Matt Edmondson (wk)*, 11 John Drake (wk), 12 Robbie Brigham*, 13 Liam McFarland.
* denotes players who have played for Central Districts at under-17 level or above.
NTOB matches this week at Cornwall Park, Auckland, this week:
■ Today: v Northeast Valley CC (Otago).
■ Tomorrow: Burnside CC (Canterbury).
■ Thursday: Pukekohe Metro CC (Northern Districts).
■ Friday: Cornwall CC (Auckland).
■ Saturday: Onslow CC (Wellington).