Well-travelled Brad Thorn back where it began
You can call Bradley Carnegie Thorn well-travelled, even nomadic, but don't call him mercenary.
Wherever the 1.95-centimetre, 116-kilogram tighthead lock plays, he likes to feel connected to the place and people around around him.
A career that has taken him from Brisbane to Canterbury, around the world with the All Blacks and then to Japan, with a sidebar in Europe, will begin afresh against the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium on February 22 when he runs out in a Highlanders jersey for his first competition game.
"I played for a couple of teams in the last couple of years, one in Japan and the other in Ireland, and had really good times and got to know the culture and the towns I was representing, but this is different," Thorn says.
"I know this area, this is my own area. This is where my dad was born, my grandparents. It's easy for me to feel quite a lot for this area, and be really proud of it."
Thorn was born in Mosgiel, and grew up in Central Otago before shifting to Brisbane with his family when he was 9.
Last week was something of a homecoming for him when he returned from Japan to join the Highlanders pre-season, including a camping trip up the Greenstone valley.
"I have a lot of memories from Bannockburn and Cromwell and that," he said.
"I stayed at my aunty and uncle's place the first night I got back and I caught up with some cousins - all the stuff that people probably take for granted. But growing up in Brisbane I pretty much grew up without any relations around, so it's nice to call in and do that sort of thing."
It's hoped that Thorn's influence will extend well beyond his performances under the roof in Dunedin.
Known as a fastidious trainer and ultra-competitive team man, Thorn has been a model professional throughout his career in two codes.
That's not to say Thorn is expected to wade in and start running the show.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph jokingly likened Thorn to rookie Otago fullback Tony Ensor.
"Brad's like Tony Ensor, in that it's his first year in the team. Most guys like to get the lay of the land before they start spouting off and he's no different," Joseph said.
"He does his actions on the field and in the way he trains and conducts himself. Every day he's saying a little bit more, which is really pleasing, and I'm sure he'll feel more comfortable once he has played a few games. Like all good rugby men he's looking around and sussing things out."
Thorn was linked to the Highlanders when he first looked to switch from league and follow a boyhood dream of playing for the All Blacks.
Even then, he was passionate about wanting to represent the area where his father played age-group rugby for Otago.
And that's why, despite being closer to 40 than 35 now, and having had just six weeks off in the past two years, Thorn is looking forward to playing among the southern men.
"I know that Jamie and everyone, they gave me this opportunity to come here and I don't want to let them, or the area - Southland, Otago, wherever - down when I go out there," says Thorn in that voice that resembles sifted gravel.
"I want to give 100 per cent effort, whatever that is. Maybe it's not as much as it used to be, but I want to perform well so that when I leave people will say, ‘Brad came back and he gave it his best and we appreciate that'."
Having wandered the footballing world, Thorn has finally arrived home.
- The Southland Times