There's a familiar face training with the Southland rugby team at the moment, but if things run to plan you will not see Hoani MacDonald turn out for the Stags this season.
MacDonald, who played 58 games for Southland before leaving to play in Wales for the past three years, is back at Rugby Park but not officially part of the Stags squad for the 2010 campaign.
Rugby Southland chief executive Roger Clark said he had worked out a deal with the second rower, which will see him training with the Stags until he shifts to Australia to take up a two-year contract with Super 15 expansion team the Melbourne Rebels.
"He's obviously already signed with the Rebels, had a little baby and the priority was to catchup with mum and the in-laws," Clark said.
"That's basically what he's doing. In the meantime he and I have come to an arrangement where he's working for the Stags because he will potentially be back in New Zealand in a couple of years and we think he's got something to add in the Southland setup. We just aren't quite sure what."
Clark said MacDonald was keen to get involved in coaching at some level, while he would also have value as a video analyst.
For now he could also provide cover if there is a serious injury in the Southland forward pack.
Highlanders locks Josh Bekhuis and Joe Tuineau and New Zealand under-20 representative Alex Ryan were named in the Southland squad this week, while Hua Tamariki and Kane Thompson offer cover in the second row.
Clark said MacDonald would not automatically get a callup if there was an injury.
"He's not a guy that we would have bought, so it's not a salary cap issue. We can't afford any more players, but we don't want any either – we've just named a squad of 28 – but it's quite nice to have a class player like him there if you did need him. His priority is to play for the Rebels, it's not to come back and play for the Stags."
The complicated salary cap rules mean that a player must be missing for four games before it starts to affect the cap.
Any decision on whether MacDonald would be called into the squad would be made at the time, Clark said.
Meanwhile, Clark spent yesterday looking at the infrastructure of NFL team the Green Bay Packers, ahead of a holiday in the United States
"It's a dream come true. I'd planned a holiday around doing the Green Bay thing because it's so close to Southland and the Highlanders, but mainly Southland."
The Packers have been one of the most successful teams in professional sport despite drawing on relatively small commercial and population bases.
While in the United States Clark, who is also chief executive of Warbirds over Wanaka, will visit the Oskkosh Airshow, thought to be the biggest of its kind in the world.
Clark planned his trip before Southland won the Ranfurly Shield and before the New Zealand Rugby Union relented on a plan to cut teams from the first division, which would have meant the national provincial championships not starting until mid-August.
He will be back in time for the Shield defence against Otago on August 7.wSee Friday's Southland Times for your NPC guide, including interviews with Jamie Mackintosh, Elliot Dixon, James Paterson, Alex Ryan and Glen Horton and a wrap of the other 13 teams in this year's national provincial championships.
- The Southland Times