Miracle worked at Highlanders under Joseph

LOGAN SAVORY
Last updated 05:00 10/11/2012
Ma'a Nonu
Fairfax NZ
MOVING SOUTH: Ma'a Nonu has signed with the Highlanders.

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OPINION: You have to like what has been created at the Highlanders base in Dunedin under the watchful eye of coach Jamie Joseph.

If you are a Highlanders fan I imagine there would be excitement brewing with what is being built there by the man they call Jake.

The guy is pulling all the right strings and, in the space of only a few years, Joseph has played a major role in taking the Highlanders from an organisation no-one wanted to be a part of to being able to lure some of the world's best.

It's been a dramatic makeover.

Tony Woodcock and Ma'a Nonu are arguably the best in the business on the international stage and now they want to play for the Highlanders.

The cynical side of me wonders whether the Highlanders are living within their means, with what is unfolding. Could they be flirting with danger when it comes to balancing the recruitment of players with their budget?

Let's hope today's exciting recruitment news is not tomorrow's doom-and-gloom financial news for the franchise.

Before Roger Clark joined up with the Highlanders he was at the helm of Rugby Southland, which had a well-publicised fall from grace financially, with high player payments determined as the catalyst behind that budget blowout.

But Joseph, and Clark for that matter, deserve more than speculation on that at the moment.

It seems these players are coming to Dunedin for the right reasons and not because the chequebook has been flung open.

Well, we have to take their word for it.

The management seems to have created an environment that is able to lure players who otherwise would not have been interested.

The Crusaders have built an empire on that sort of feeling and, it seems, the Highlanders are in the baby steps of doing the same.

The recruitment of the likes of Nonu, Woodcock and soon-to-be confirmed Brad Thorn are the jewels in the crown when it comes to the feelgood factor the Highlanders are creating.

But, for me, the big names are the icing on the top of the cake in terms of the success of Joseph's recruitment drive.

It's the talent-spotting of other players that has impressed me the most.

It's not hard to work out that names such as Woodcock, Gear, Thorn, Nonu and Hore will add a lot to your team if you can attract them.

Those with a passing interest in rugby can work that out.

But it wouldn't have been all that easy to work out just how great an impact names such as Aaron Smith, Jarred Hoeata and Tamati Ellison would have had on the Highlanders when Joseph originally picked them up.

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Smith was a young apprentice hairdresser from Manawatu, who few others showed interest in before Joseph came calling.

He's now the first choice All Blacks halfback.

Hoeata was at the Chiefs but had seen little time before Joseph picked him up.

He then went on to play for the All Blacks and now is a frontline player at Super Rugby level.

Tamati Ellison was a well regarded player before he headed to Japan but, I'll be the first to admit, I had doubts whether signing the 29-year-old was the right step forward.

I was well and truly wrong.

What the recent recruitment for the Highlanders has done is distance itself from an Otago-Southland merger and turn it into a professional, standalone franchise.

It's the sort of feel they were after when they dreamed up the green jersey before public pressure become too much for the Highlanders board to handle and they switched back to the blue, gold and maroon.

Players are coming from everywhere now and the number of Southland and Otago players in the squad is dwindling.

Some won't have a problem with it in the south, while some won't buy into a team made up of visitors from outside the region.

But the Highlanders are in the business of results and it's hard to think Clark and Joseph will be considering too much else at the moment.

- The Southland Times

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