All Blacks lock Brad Thorn loves the Ranfurly Shield but says he will not need extra motivation for potentially the last game of his Canterbury career.
Thorn and test prop Owen Franks return to the red-and-black starting lineup for tomorrow's shield defence and NPC clash with Counties Manukau at Christchurch's AMI Stadium.
They have spent the past five weeks focusing on the three Rs – rest, recovery and reloading – since the All Blacks' triumphant Tri-Nations campaign.
This will be their first and only appearance of the season for Canterbury before the northern hemisphere tour and both men are champing at the bit.
"I love [the shield]," Thorn said. "I just thought I was getting a [NPC] game, but now they've won the shield, it makes it a bit more special."
Thorn, 35, is conscious it could be his last outing for his adopted province with the All Blacks' World Cup squad almost certain to be kept out of the national championship arena in 2011.
"I really enjoy [playing for] Canterbury. My wife and children will be there on Saturday. I love running out here in front of the Canterbury crowd – we get some really good support there.
"For me this could be my last ever game for Canterbury, depending on what happens next year. This is pretty special."
Thorn discovered the romance of the Ranfurly Shield in 2001 – his first season with Canterbury after his code-switch from rugby league. The former Brisbane Broncos second rower fell in love with the "log o' wood" as Canterbury successfully repulsed a series of challenges.
It remains one of his top two trophies.
"Dan Carter says the same thing. The Bledisloe Cup is the big thing, but the Ranfurly Shield is the next thing that really appeals. For me, coming from league, we didn't have anything like that. I just thought it was unique, something special. It would be great to have something like that in league."
Thorn finally discovered how it felt to win the trophy when he was released by All Blacks management to play in the successful challenge against Wellington last year.
So did he feel as frustrated as a caged lion at being unable to play against Southland last week?
"It would have been nice but I sort of had mixed feelings. There's a whole group of guys who have been in this team throughout the competition. I thought it was fitting that they had a crack at it ... It would have been nice to have been part of it but I'm pleased to be able to play this week."
Thorn has grown accustomed to having "an off-season in the middle of the year", which he admitted was initially "strange to a league guy". He was used to the NRL system where "you have a six-month block and just go hard, hammer and tongs".
But he said rugby had a series of competitions to peak for and it was a case of "just being smart around it. I don't think it's a bad thing having a break, but if they wanted me to play on, I'd be happy to do so, as well."
Canterbury will have Thorn and Franks back in harness but All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock is unavailable this week after a brilliant first-class debut as a blindside flanker against Southland.
Ash Parker will start in the No6 jersey alongside the in-form Matt Todd and Nasi Manu in the back row.
Canterbury coaches Rob Penney and Tabai Matson have named an unchanged backline with Sonny Bill Williams and Robert Fruean paired together again in midfield and Tu Umaga-Marshall – who will face his uncle Tana Umaga, the Counties second five-eighth – on the right wing.
Left wing Telusa Veainu, 19, who has scored six tries, this week will earn his Canterbury blazer for his 12th game. Lock Isaac Ross will chalk up his 50th match in red-and-black and former All Blacks prop Wyatt Crockett receives his second blazer for playing 62 matches.
- The Press
How long do you think Hawke's Bay will hold the Shield for this time?Related story: (See story)