Halfback Connor McLeod is the first to admit life is good behind the dominant Hastings Rugby and Sports forward pack in Hawke's Bay's premier club competition.
"I didn't have a pack like that down south. Our Varsity side contained the smaller boys in the Otago club competition," explained the 2019 Otago representative who made seven first class appearances for the Magpies last year.
McLeod, 23, agreed it was crucial his pack continued to dominate if the Hastings side is going to win today's Nash Cup final against Taradale Rugby and Sports at Elwood Park.
"Everything starts up front. Taradale gave us our toughest game earlier in the comp and we have to front up again."
While the 2018 and '19 New Zealand Universities rep is impressing with his slick distribution his goalkicking is more than handy too. Although McLeod (pictured above) was far from happy with his one success from four attempts in last weekend's win against Clive.
"It was one of those days but probably better to happen then than in the final," McLeod said.
In addition to Magpies head coach Mark Ozich, McLeod, also receives goalkicking tips from his father Ross McLeod who scored 188 points for the Magpies between 1988 and 1995.
With Highlander Folau Fakatava out for the season and All Black and Chiefs halfback Brad Weber likely to be with the national squad most of the winter McLeod knows there is a good chance he can be the Magpies starting halfback this year.
"There is a lot of footy to go before then. It's important I focus on one game at a time and see what happens. I'm gutted for Folau. He would have been an All Black this year but he will be back," McLeod said.
A health insurance worker with the Maurice Trapp Group, McLeod, is looking forward to his club hosting the final.
"The home crowd has a few beers and creates a good atmosphere. They're never short of tips."
With Taradale's regular starting halfback Humphrey Sheild out of action with a shoulder injury McLeod will be marking Karl Hewitt (pictured above).
Taradale co-coach Tim Combs pointed out there is little between Sheild and Hewitt.
"Karl has played more than 100 games for our side and is the cornerstone of our team. He always puts the team first and despite being a policeman for the last few years always fits his trainings around his work."
A nephew of former All Black hooker, Norm Hewitt, Hewitt, 28, made his debut for Taradale's premier team in 2013. He played his 100th match in 2018.
Magpies hooker and regular Hastings Rugby and Sports No 8 Jacob Devery is likely to miss the match. He has an infected calf after being bitten by a spider.
Magpies winger Mason Emerson, who has been playing in the Hastings midfield, has yet to recover from a head knock collected in his team's 25-15 win against Taradale a fortnight ago. Fellow midfielder, Danny Toala, who scored two tries in that match, has returned to Hurricanes duty.
In addition to Sheild, Taradale Rugby and Sports, will miss the services of locks Angelo Mufana and Jacob Ward who are also on the injured list.
Expect a close encounter and a three-point victory to the hosts.
Teams for today's 3pm final:
Hastings Rugby and Sports: Ioane Ioane, Luke Rosvali, Gideon Kautai, Andrew Hayward, Tommy Agnew, Jordan Thompson-Dunn, Connor McLeod, Fale Matamata, Jardine Chung Ching, Joe Taafa, Jessie Lesa-Sipaia, Angus McGuire, Dennis Tapusoa, Miracle Lolofie, Jason Long (captain). Substitutes: Matt Wilson, Eugene Sandilands, Billie Crosswell, Ausage Fomai, Johnny Saifiti, Alex Philip, Danya Tulou.
Taradale Rugby and Sports: Dylan Ramsay, Nathan Ramsay, Hemaua Samasoni, Kienan Higgins, Majella Tufuga, Brad Truesdale, Karl Hewitt, Iakopo Mapu, Nathan Tweedy, Josh Eden-Whaitiri, Sam Combs, Ben Freschini, Wiremu Cottrell, Gene Syminton, Namatahi Waa (captain). Substitutes: Liam Rowlands, Lolani Faleiva, Jayden Walker, Bonny Litera, Thomas Eden, Cam Robinson, Brayden Cunningham.