“We’ll be throwing everything at it to go back to back with this Meads Cup.”

That is North Otago Heartland coach Jason Forrest’s mindset as his defending Meads Cup champion side puts the trophy on the line for the first time tomorrow.

North Otago hosts Ngati Porou East Coast in its season-opener at Whitestone Contracting Stadium tomorrow, after Covid-19 postponed the start of the 2021 competition.

Forrest expected East Coast – coached by former All Black Hosea Gear – to be a big and physical pack.

With no Heartland season last year, it was hard to know what North Otago would be up against this season, but Forrest was worried only about his side.

“It’s more about us this week, to be fair. We just know we have to physically front up. We just need to do our thing and focus on what we need to do,” Forrest said.

Starting the season at home was a bonus, and had made training this week a little easier.

The team returned to training in Oamaru last week, and “banged each other around” in an “in-house” game last Saturday, he said.

The sessions had been “pretty difficult’, but the buzz was returning to the team.

“You can feel the excitement and this week will be better in regard to there being light at the end of the tunnel, with a game.”

During lockdown, strength and conditioning coach Glen Sturgess created a training programme for players, and about 80% followed it and kept their fitness up.

A couple of players had been forced to pull out as a result of the longer season, but there was enough depth in the squad, and it meant other players would now get more opportunities.

There was also a possibility of new players being brought into the squad.

Lockdown also forced Forrest and the coaching team to reassess the team’s progress.

“We really focused on getting them back into their mindsets . It is what it is – and that’s our job as coaches, to make sure we get them back to that point.

“Everyone’s in the same boat. We’ve just got to get onto it.”

Forrest encouraged the North Otago community to get out and support the team. Tomorrow’s game could be watched via a live-stream on the North Otago Rugby Facebook page, and there would be a small ticketed crowd, adhering to Alert Level 2 restrictions, at the game.

“Get back out and support us. Wherever circumstances lead us, get in behind us and show the boys a bit of support.”

Kickoff is at 2.30pm. All tickets must be pre-purchased, and there will be no gate sales.