Waikato rugby skipper Alex Bradley is not calling it quits just yet but he says playing for the 2012 team's last game together is just as important as defending the Ranfurly Shield today.
Hawke's Bay Magpies will bring plenty of shield tradition and a desperation to save an otherwise poor season to Waikato Stadium.
That alone is enough to motivate the Mooloos for one last big effort for the season, having saved their own season by winning the log o' wood off Taranaki in New Plymouth last week.
But blockbusting No 8 Bradley says there is more to it than even that.
"This is our last opportunity to play together as a team," said Bradley. "For some last time in the jersey even."
So does that apply to him - at 31 in just his fourth season in the Waikato colours?
"I'd like to think [I'll be around to defend the shield next season] but I'm just thinking about this weekend at the moment," Bradley said.
"I'm sure I'll have a few weeks off and start feeling the hunger for it again."
Bradley is wary of today's opponent.
"We've got to be on our game. They've got nothing to lose and they'll be coming up here to take the shield off us."
Waikato's attitude has been made clear all week. They are going to take a challenger's mindset into tonight's match, playing attacking rugby to try and win the shield again rather than sit back and try and defend it.
"Come Saturday it's just as much theirs as it is ours until that final whistle."
This is a chance for Waikato, who had just three wins in the ITM Cup premiership until last week's back-to-back bonus-point victories on the road against Taranaki and Counties-Manukau, to put a real exclamation mark on their season.
The shield has made that season but they still need to hold it and not repeat the 2007 first-defence loss to Canterbury to make that more than a flash in the pan. They also want to finish the year in style, building on what was achieved so impressively against Taranaki.
"We have had an up-and-down season I guess prior to the Taranaki game so it would be great to finish off well, but the main thing is that we go out there and play our game, don't wait for them to do what they want to do and have that mentality that we're going out there to attack.
"They're a tough side and they're going to come up here to leave nothing behind, going out on the field to do a job and we've just got to make sure we are a step better."
Bradley is also hoping for bumper crowd at Waikato Stadium to finish the season.
"We've had our genuine supporters all season - more some games than others - but I think everyone is getting behind the shield and our last game, 5.30 Saturday afternoon, hopefully we get some families along and watch the boys put a good performance on," he said.
Head coach Chris Gibbes wants to see attitude and character from his players.
"It's been evident in the last couple of weeks but it's been patchy through the season and what we want from this group is consistency of attitude and what that's going to look like is a quality performance," said Gibbes, who refused to place any store by the fact the Magpies have had injury problems and are sitting in the relegation spot going into their last match of the season.
"We know they are coming here with nothing to lose and are going to have a good crack at it so we are paying special attention to that," Gibbes said.
"They're a niggly side to play if you don't get it right.
"They are another team that like to throw it around a bit and come at you pretty hard so if you don't meet them they get in behind you and can really hurt you."
AT A GLANCE
Waikato: Trent Renata, Declan O'Donnell, Save Tokula, Jackson Willison, Joe Webber, Sam Christie, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Alex Bradley (c), Zak Hohneck, Matt Vant Leven, Sam Kilgour, Romana Graham, Ben May, Marcel Cummings-Toone, Toby Smith. Res: Vance Elliott, Latu Talakai/Ted Tauroa, Anthony Wise, Rory Grice, Brendon Leonard, Piers Francis, Navi Sikivou.
Hawke's Bay: Gillies Kaka, Maritino Nemani, Marvin Karawana, Andrew Horrell, Penikolo Latu, Ihaia West, Isaac Paewai, Karl Lowe (c), Tivaini Fomai, Trent Boswell-Wakefield, Maselino Paulino, Ross Kennedy, Peter Borlase, Hika Elliot, Brendon Edmonds. Res: Ash Dixon, Jodi Allen, Johan Schoonbee, Adam Bradey, Michael Ruru, Star Timu, Bronson Neera.
Referee: Jonathan White.
Kickoff: 5.35 tonight, Waikato Stadium.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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