Wellington's Riki Flutey set to roar once more
Riki Flutey's eyes still sparkle when he talks about rugby and at 34 years of age the former British and Irish Lions back is adamant his professional career isn't over just yet.
Flutey has signed a one-year contract to play for the Wellington Lions in this year's national provincial championship and set himself the goal of securing a Hurricanes Super Rugby contract in 2015.
After nine years on the professional treadmill, the father-of-four resurfaced in the capital a few months back fresh from two-year stint in Japan that paid the bills, but didn't feed the soul.
"During that time my wife [Sarah] and four kids were based here in Wellington and I'd go five months without seeing them, four months without seeing them, so that was tough," he said.
"As much as I was loving the rugby and what you can earn over there is fantastic, at the end of the day family is more important to me."
But returning home was never about retirement and Flutey's first ports of call were to his old club Petone and to his former Wellington coach Chris Boyd.
"Mentally and physically I'm still keen to keep playing at a high level. I knew my body could handle it and take it and even though I'm 34 I don't feel like the old guy on the field.
"The two years in Japan have been great for my body. In terms of the physicality it wasn't too demanding and in terms of getting the injuries right and doing heaps of fitness there has been great.
"I approached Wellington and asked them where they were with selection and that I was keen to come back and be a part of it if they were. I know I've got a lot to offer.
"I need goals to play at the highest level and if there is an opportunity to wear the Hurricanes jersey again it would be awesome to do that. That will be my drive to compete in the ITM Cup."
Flutey's last season for the Lions and Hurricanes in 2005 seems a lifetime ago, but he's not one for numbers.
His CV boasted 38 Super Rugby matches and 58 games for Wellington when he left for London Irish on a journey that took him to the top of world rugby.
Between 2008 and 2011 the Featherston-born former halfback-cum-first five-eighth-cum-fullback reinvented himself as a midfielder. He was capped 14 times for England and played a key role in the British and Irish Lions third test win over South Africa in Johannesburg in 2009.
Ellis Park seems a long way from Lyndhurst Park, but two weeks ago Flutey scored two tries there to help Petone hand Tawa their first loss in the Swindale Shield this season.
Not a bad start for a bloke who was nearly twice the age of most of his new team-mates.
Whether Flutey can transfer his club form to the highest levels one more time remains to be seen, but you get the feeling his experience could have a similar effect on the young Lions where he'll likely provide a steadying hand outside Highlanders first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga.
"And if it doesn't happen its not the end of the world," Flutey said. "I feel like I've achieved a lot in my career, but wouldn't it be great to finish up where it all started with Wellington and the Hurricanes."
The Dominion Post