The return to the Bay of Plenty starting line-up of All Blacks flanker Sam Cane is a welcome boost for the Steamers ahead of a must-win clash with Hawke's Bay in Napier tomorrow night.
Cane has not played any rugby since the Otago game on August 30 and he is desperate to get some action, after non-stop training with the All Blacks as Richie McCaw's apprentice.
"I'm looking forward to playing and I love putting on the Bay jersey," Cane said.
"It means a lot to me for sure, growing up and representing the province. I couldn't really see myself playing for any other province."
Cane joins blindside flanker Tanerau Latimer and No 8 Luke Braid in the best provincial loose forward trio in the ITM Cup.
The other good news is the severe injury toll in the Steamers backline is finally easing.
Last Friday, an entire backline of talent watched from the sidelines, as Auckland were dealt a lesson in commitment and enthusiasm by the fired-up Steamers. First five Chris Noakes and midfielder Mafi Kefu are on the bench against the Magpies, and there is hope captain and halfback Jamie Nutbrown is not too far away.
The Steamers have plenty of confidence and momentum following their first win over Auckland since 2004. Phil Burleigh scored the spectacular match-winner in Rotorua and says that victory has turned things around for the team.
"The win was pretty big for us and during the week before the game we spoke about it being like our final. We knew if we wanted to make the semis we had to win that game, so it was pretty important. It also showed we have some depth to cover the injuries."
Burleigh has endured some tough games against Hawke's Bay and is expecting nothing less than a full-throttle clash at McLean Park.
"We have battled against them over the last three years and we need to get one back on them I guess, especially after they beat us in our centenary game last year.
"Our semifinal aspirations are still on for sure. If we continue to play like we did against Auckland, and express ourselves a wee bit more and play with some width, then I think we will be all right. The game plan we used against Auckland needs to be a pattern of ours right the way through the rest of the season."
Expressing themselves and playing positively is also front of mind for coach Kevin Schuler.
"Hawke's Bay will be tough opponents at home, especially after their loss to Southland," he said. "They have a pretty physical forward pack and some dangerous runners there, too, plus a pretty good playmaker in [former Steamers first-five] Dan Waenga.
"We have looked at what they do but we are also aware of how important it is that we keep continuing to build our momentum. On attack against Auckland we were just trying to have confidence to move the ball and not second-guess ourselves.
"That same recipe will apply against Hawke's Bay. In every game we have to go out there and give our best performance.
"We just want to continue the same sort of approach we have been working on for the last couple of weeks. We are happy with how our defensive phases worked, and being confident to get up off the line, plus we managed to get some turnovers as well."
Kickoff in Napier is 7.35pm.
Bay of Plenty team
1 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 2 Dan Perrin, 3 Josh Hohneck, 4 Culum Retallick, 5 Leon Power, 6 Tanerau Latimer (c), 7 Sam Cane, 8 Luke Braid, 9 Josh Hall, 10 Nick McCashin, 11 Maru Henry, 12 Phil Burleigh, 13 Kenny Lynn, 14 Leila Masaga, 15 Lance McDonald.
Reserves: 16 John Pareanga, 17 Tristan Moran, 18 Dan Goodwin, 19 Carl Axtens, 20 Lewis Hancock, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Mafi Kefu.