Opening their Mitre 10 Cup campaign at home is an advantage the Bay of Plenty Steamers hope will help get their season off to the right start.
Bay of Plenty take on Ranfurly Shield holders Otago in round one of the Mitre 10 Cup Championship at Tauranga Domain tomorrow following a mixed bag of pre-season matches for both sides. When they played each other last season, Otago won 45-34.
The Mitre 10 Cup got under way on Thursday night with clashes between Southland and Northland, followed by Auckland vs North Harbour last night. Today, Tasman take on Wellington, Counties Manukau play Taranaki and Waikato face Canterbury before tomorrow's Manawatu v Hawke's Bay clash and Bay of Plenty's home game.
In their pre-season matches Bay of Plenty and Otago have taken two wins of three clashes. While it's a good build-up for the competition, neither team are focused on what's come before them.
Steamers coach Clayton McMillan wants to make the most of their home-ground advantage.
"Everyone loves to play at home. We get a lot of energy off our supporters and it's a huge advantage to be playing at home and to have that advantage in our first game, will be pretty critical to our chances on the weekend," McMillan says.
But he knows his side will have a tough battle on their hands against Otago, preparing for the onslaught of pressure Otago are known to bring every game they play.
"Otago is always tough. They are quite an innovative team. They've got some X-factor and are a hard-working team. They are a risk and rewards team. They are dangerous for a whole number of reasons. So, we certainly are going to have to work hard to get a positive outcome for the weekend."
Naming his 23-man team to open their competition campaign was no easy task, saying no one had played poorly during their pre-season matches.
"Everybody worked hard and they had a lot of fun and narrowing the fit and available ones down to the 23, was actually pretty difficult. That's a good place to be in, from a coaching perspective."
Among them are five players making their Steamers' debuts, Tom McHugh, Kurt Eklund, Tavita Mafileo, Abraham Papali'i and Pryor Collier.
McHugh, Eklund and Collier have previously played for Auckland in the Cup but Mafileo and Papali'i are new to the competition. Mafileo was in the Steamers last year but didn't play a game and is one of only a few players who have played Super Rugby – for Chiefs – before playing Mitre 10 Cup. Papali'i is a former Sydney Roosters NRL and international rugby player.
"While they might be running out for the first time in the Bay of Plenty team, they are certainly not rookies to this level."
Otago coach Ben Herring isn't taking any chances and has named a strong side, which includes reserve William Ngatai, who played for the Bay Plenty Sevens and Te Puna in the Baywide club rugby competition in 2018.
"We've put our strongest team out, we're looking forward to it, everybody's in good form, everyone's itching to get out there," Herring says.
"I think we've got an exciting forward pack for us this week, we've got a lot of guys that are gonna go on to higher honours hopefully. I'm pumped for these guys that haven't quite cracked super to put their best forward this week and I think they will."
Pre-season matches for Otago have included two Ranfurly Shield defence wins against North Otago, 49-14 and Thames Valley 41-21, and a 54-19 loss to Tasman. Bay of Plenty have clocked up a 43-12 win against North Harbour and a 31-0 win over Counties Manukau, but suffered a 24-15 loss to Wellington.
"For a lot of us that hadn't played a whole lot of shield defences it did create a little bit of nerves and it was nice to have a couple of those experiences before season, so good to get it out of the way."
Herring says they're aware of their competition's results but it has no relevance in their Mitre 10 Cup campaign.
"We've had a look, we've got a game plan and we'll try execute it tomorrow.
"We're just focused on the season now, one game at a time, I'm certainly not looking ahead to shield games. Bay of Plenty round one that's the most important."
Bay of Plenty Steamers to play Otago:
Aidan Ross (Te Puke Sports)
Nathan Harris (Te Puke Sports)
Jeff Thwaites (Te Puna)
Aaron Carroll (Mount Sports)
Baden Wardlaw (Whakarewarewa)
Hugh Blake (Mount Sports)
Mitch Karpik (Rangataua)
Abraham Papali'i (Greerton Marist)
Richard Judd (Mount Sports)
Dan Hollinshead (Te Puke Sports)
Fa'asiu Fuatai (Rangataua)
Mathew Skipwith-Garland (Whakarewarewa)
Joe Webber (Rangiuru)
Emoni Narawa (Tauranga Sports)
Chase Tiatia (Rangataua)
Kurt Eklund (Mount Sports)
Tom McHugh (Whakarewarewa)
Tevita Mafileo (Tauranga Sports)
Hoani Matenga (Mount Sports)
Ajay Mua (Greerton Marist)
Luke Campbell (Te Puke Sports)
Jason Robertson (Te Puke Sports)
Pryor Collier (Mount Sports)
Otago to play Bay of Plenty:
Who: Bay of Plenty Steamers vs Otago
When: Sunday, August 11, kick off at 2.05pm.
Where: Tauranga Domain.
Curtain Raiser: FMG Rural XV vs Thames Valley U16 Selection, kick off at 12pm.
Details: Gates open at 11.30am.