Marist skipper Jacob Norris has been named to captain the Tasman Mako team on its two-match tour of the United States in the absence of the retired Tim Perry.
They've reached the top of New Zealand rugby's provincial heap, now the Tasman Mako's up-and-comers are ready to sink their teeth into international competition.
A development team representing the Mitre 10 Cup premiership champions will play games against American Major League side the Houston SaberCats on Saturday January 18 (Sunday NZ time) followed by league champions the Seattle Seawolves on Sunday January 26 (Monday NZ time).
A 27-strong squad comprising of contracted Tasman players who do not have Super contracts, Tasman B and U19 players departed for the United States on Wednesday.
Former NZ U20 player Jamie Spowart is part of a 27-strong Tasman Mako squad which departed on a two-match tour of the United States this week
With head coaches Andrew Goodman and Clarke Dermody engaged with the Crusaders and Highlanders 2020 pre-season efforts, Mako assistant coaches Gray Cornelius and Shane Christie will mentor the squad with Kahu Marfell taking up the role of manager.
The retirement of original tour captain Tim Perry means the Mako will be led by Marist's Jacob Norris with Braden Stewart and Jamie Spowart as deputies.
All three have Mitre 10 Cup experience with Tasman, while Spowart is a former NZ Under 20 representative.
Cornelius said the trio's leadership qualities would be invaluable on the tour and beyond.
"Part of the tour is developing those sorts of people to be leaders in our environment.
"Jake's got a lot of promise as a footy player but also as a leader - overall it's a good chance for those guys who've come from the Mako environment and being, I guess, the new fresh faced kids on the block to now leading and I'm sure they'll take a lot of inspiration from the senior guys they've played with."
Training began within a fortnight of Tasman's triumphant Mitre 10 Cup premiership final on October 26.
Despite the challenge of assembling personnel during the Christmas and New Year period, Cornelius said he had been impressed by the effort shown by the squad and expected to see a number of players stake their claim for a Mako spot in 2020.
"We've got a good balance of guys who have had a taste of Mako footy that we're blending with some younger fellas who have shown some promise at club level and some other guys that we want to have a look at."
He said playing two highly-ranked MLR teams offered an ideal test for the young Mako side.
The competition was growing stronger by the year, thanks to the influence of overseas players and a big injection of resources into United States rugby.
"We're expecting a pretty tough challenge - a lot of the local lads are ex-NFL players - we'll be sticking to big athletic guys so hopefully we can match it with them physically and our skill level will bring us home - for us its not necessarily what's on the scoreboard but developing future Mako."
New Zealand kick-off times will be Sunday 19 Jan at 12 noon for the Houston match and 4:30pm on Monday January 27 for the Seattle game.