Follow live rugby updates as Hawke's Bay take on Southland in the Mitre 10 Cup.

There was a time when Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby prop Namatahi Waa thought he would never play again after a serious neck injury.

"It was back in 2017 during a pre-season contact session with the Northland Taniwha," Waa recalled on the eve of the Magpies fifth round Mitre 10 Cup Championship match against the Southland Stags at Napier's McLean Park tonight.

"I was driven into the ground by another forward. There was a bulge around the C5, C6 vertebrae in the spine. My spinal chord had been pinched ... but being a stubborn Maori I carried on," Waa explained.


"Later that day I wasn't feeling right so I stopped and got the doctor to check it out. I was told I could have been paralysed from the neck down and surgery was required," Waa said.

Following surgery Waa had to wear a neck brace for three months. It was the middle of the summer and he experienced some uncomfortable days.

"My neck held me back for a while. It knocked my confidence and I was left wondering if I could play my normal game again," Waa recalled.

"I decided to have a break and rehab my neck. I relied on my job as an arborist ... climbing up and down trees to keep me fit."

The 2016 Maori All Black, who played four games for the Blues that same year, didn't get back on to the field until he played the last five games of this season for Taradale Rugby and Sports.

Te Aute College product Waa, 28, did enough to prove he was ready for a return to the first class scene.

After four appearances off the subs bench for the Magpies earlier in their campaign tighthead prop Waa will make his first starting XV appearance tonight. He replaces Maori All Blacks and Hurricanes prop Ben May who has a bout of the flu.