Marty Holah will probably never get another chance to get his hands on the Ranfurly Shield if Waikato don't lift it off North Harbour this weekend.
At 30, and signed to join Welsh club Ospreys, Holah knows it is now or never.
The former All Blacks open-side flanker grew up revelling in Waikato's Shield traditions and went to Eden Park to watch the Mooloo men lift the prized log of wood off Auckland in both 1993 and 1997 - the first time as a sixth former at St John's College.
"It was a pretty awesome atmosphere. I remember in '93 coming back to the ground here afterwards and people being packed around and the team came out, brought the Shield out and John Mitchell held it up. It was just an awesome buzz."
Of the current Waikato squad, only Holah and the injured Jono Gibbes have experienced defending the Shield - in 1999 and 2000 - but Holah has never been part of a successful challenge.
"I've only ever had one challenge for it and that was Canterbury in 2005 (lost 23-15). The other two times we've challenged for it I've been unavailable, which was disappointing.
"But I think we've got a special opportunity this week."
Holah remembers the impression the successful era of 1992-93 made on a whole Waikato generation and after last year's Air New Zealand Cup victory he thinks a bit of Shield fever is the next step.
Holah believes they are ready to take on Saturday night's challenge at North Harbour Stadium, Albany, despite the inexperience scattered through the team, particularly in the backline.
"I think we had a pretty tough encounter that will be pretty similar to what we're coming up against at the weekend against Counties and probably learned a few lessons for that game from the Auckland game so we're improving and we're working pretty hard."
What Holah does find tough at the moment is how critics are comparing the present Waikato team's form with that of last year's champion Air New Zealand Cup team at finals time, forgetting that team also had some shaky early-season form.
"I think we're building and getting better. It will be another tough challenge to win the Shield but I think most of the guys realise this is a special opportunity that you often get maybe once in your career.
"We've got a genuine opportunity to go up and get the Shield, not that it's going to be easy - it'll be really tough for us - but it's a genuine chance for us I think."
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