Retiring Highlanders coach Tony Brown has known the best of times and some less memorable times but Saturday's Super Rugby Pacific quarterfinal against the Blues represents a final chance to score a march in Auckland.
Brown acknowledged the Blues of 2022 were a quality team but said the lower expectations on his side gave them a chance to upset and favourites, and they intended to throw everything at their opportunity.
As one of the more innovative coaches on the rugby scene, Brown has always been capable of producing the unexpected. It is now up to his players to deliver the goods.
It is a challenge for the side that Brown experienced as a player.
"When I first started playing for Otago and the Highlanders, the Blues were always the team that was tough to beat, especially when you're going up to Eden Park.
"It's no different. In 1995, when we played the [NPC] final up there for Otago, they had 13 All Blacks, and we came a little bit short on a penalty try.
"Back in those days, the Otago sides, and Highlanders' side, used to give it everything they had. They weren't afraid of taking on the Blues, and we've got to be the same.
"We've got to give it everything we've got, we can't be afraid of their team and if it's good enough at the end of the day then we win the game and if it's not we'll still be proud of the effort and the preparation that we've had," he said.
It's finals time! Catch up on all the team-lists, stats, big stories and key information ahead of the quarterfinals below.#SRPFINALS— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) June 2, 2022
The preparation was helped by having a complete squad to choose from, allowing opposed team training while there was no one with the 'flu this week.
Brown said replacement hooker Leni Apisai had been with the side most recently for the past two weeks, but he had connections with them off and on during the year and was with them while they were based in Queenstown at the start of the competition.
"We've had ongoing injury problems with all of our hookers and he's been a great addition to the team," he said.
Brown confirmed that Conor Garden-Bachop had recovered after going through his concussion protocols.
Having All Blacks loose forward Shannon Frizell back would be a confidence boost for the side, and when coming off the bench, he would bring the required physicality to beat the Blues.
"We'll look to inject him early on in the second half," he said.
Brown said that was where he was likely to have most impact in the game. Starting him would have meant taking him off early when they wanted him to be there at the finish.
"We've got other guys who can do the job at the start but we want his rugby ability at the end of the game," he said.
Your Highlanders to take on @BluesRugbyTeam this Saturday night for the DHL Super Rugby Pacific Quarterfinal— Highlanders (@Highlanders) June 1, 2022
Aaron Smith to Captain the team
Shannon Frizell returns from injury
Leni Apisai to make his Highlanders Debut#SuperRugbyPacific pic.twitter.com/0bfMfYWOrD