Tim Mikkelson could be about to play his last season of NPC rugby for Waikato.
The 27-year-old winger, who at 1.92 metres and 103kg has never fitted the traditional wing mould, couldn't wait to get back from his standout international sevens season to don the red, yellow and black in the 15-a-side code this year.
After all, there is the Ranfurly Shield to defend and Mikkelson scored a hat-trick of tries late last season in helping Waikato lift that log o' wood off Taranaki and then missed the chance to defend it against Hawke's Bay because of the start of the IRB Sevens World Series circuit.
With the players' collective contract agreement just settled after prolonged talks between the New Zealand Rugby Union and the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association, the way now appears clear for up to 15 men's sevens players to be given the long-promised fulltime contracts of between $90,000 and $100,000.
The idea is to enable them to be able to concentrate fulltime on sevens leading up to the Rio Olympics in 2016 without having to supplement their income playing 15s.
Mikkelson is now one of the most elite in the Kiwi sevens set-up, leading New Zealand to another overall victory in the IRB world series this year, winning the IRB Sevens Player of the Year Award and then helping New Zealand to win the Sevens World Cup in Moscow, which in turn saw him named player of the tournament.
Described by coach Gordon Tietjens as his fittest player, Mikkelson will thus be one of the first in line to be offered a fulltime contract and end his days of 15-a-side rugby, having made 54 appearances for Waikato and scored 90 points since his debut in 2008.
"It might be, but I never quite know," said Mikkelson. "The contracts are still, I suppose, taking their time.
"I suppose I'll play this season like maybe it is my last, but I always love to come back and play for Waikato. I grew up here."
New Zealand sevens players had to go fulltime if they were to stay ahead of other countries who have been training fulltime for a while now and were becoming very good as a result, the Matamata-born player said.
While it had been a long sevens season, he believed it was easier for outside backs to still switch between the two forms of the game, although next year the Commonwealth Games would be another sevens attraction.
In the meantime Mikkelson admitted the Ranfurly Shield was a huge lure for him in 15s.
"But we can't go out to defend it, we've got to go out to try and win it again, because we know every team that plays us is going to play like it's their last game."
They could not afford to look any further ahead than this Saturday night's shield defence and opening ITM Cup game against Northland at Waikato Stadium.
"Northland have got a strong team, especially with Rene Ranger up there, they're going to bring a lot of heat and winning the shield takes only one game so we can't afford to look any further ahead than that."
The firepower out wide in the Northland team did not stop at Ranger with Fijian star Rupeni Caucaunibuca expected to be a handful.
- Waikato Times
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