Ma'a Nonu set for return to the Hurricanes
Ma'a Nonu return and the confirmation of Beauden Barrett's decision to stay put are set to counter balance any fall out should the Hurricanes' Super Rugby play-off drought stretch into its sixth year.
It is understood Nonu's decision to put family first and return to his old stomping grounds in the capital is now a formality that will play out over coming weeks.
The All Blacks second five-eighth has an out-clause in his two-year Blues contract and is expected to activate his right to explore other options once their current season is over.
Hurricanes chief executive James Te Puni and incoming coach Chris Boyd would not comment while Nonu has maintained his silence on the issue.
Blues coach John Kirwan has said he hopes his All Blacks midfielder will stay in Auckland but that now looks unlikely.
An official announcement on Nonu's playing future won't come until both the Hurricanes and Blues are officially eliminated from the play-offs race. That is in part because Nonu will want to leave Auckland having given everything he can for Kirwan who gave him a Super Rugby lifeline last year when the door was shut at New Zealand's other four franchises.
A delayed announcement would also avoid his return to Wellington clashing with the departure of current Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett, the man known as ‘Hammer' and who unceremoniously dumped him after the 2011 season. That
decision has been keenly felt on the playing field over the past three seasons with the Hurricanes' lack of punch in the midfield coming back to bite them badly during Friday night's costly 24-16 loss to the Chiefs in Hamilton.
Tim Bateman is a classy operator, but not the ball carrying midfielder the Hurricanes need, an asset which, along with a genuinely big and imposing lock in the mould of Chiefs star Brodie Retallick are the obvious holes in the roster.
London-bound Samoan international Alapati Leiua could have provided the missing piece of the midfield puzzle, but was only moved from the wing halfway through the current season and then injured his ankle in the crucial playoff push.
Nonu never wanted to leave Wellington and has had to commute back and forth from Dunedin and Auckland respectively for the past two years to spend maximum time with his young family.
He's shelved those distractions to star for the All Blacks and is nearing the end of his best Super Rugby season since 2009, the last time he helped the Hurricanes to the playoffs.
While there will be some who argue Nonu, at 32 years old, is a wasted investment for the Hurricanes, that line of thinking does not hold stock for a franchise that desperately needs his services.
And not just on the field. Nonu provides a compelling storyline. He is a favourite son and desperately wants to cap his career by winning in his home colours of yellow and black, ones he has worn 110 times at Super Rugby level since 2003.
Nonu commented last year that one of the hardest things about watching the Hurricanes was not being able to play alongside Oriental Rongotai clubmates Julian and Ardie Savea, hooker Motu Matu'u and young fullback Matt Proctor.
That group, under local favourite Conrad Smith, would go a long way to garnering the support that has drifted away from Westpac Stadium.
Coupled with the appointment of passionate Wellington coaches Boyd and John Plumtree and the return of fullback Jason Woodward from the Melbourne Rebels, Hurricanes bosses will be hoping they can woo back lost local supporters.
While Nonu's future will need to negotiate some delicate moments in coming weeks, Barrett's should be smooth sailing.
The Taranaki pivot is understood to have turned down a lucrative offer from the Blues to stay with the Hurricanes for a fifth season.
Barrett is believed to be excited by the prospect of playing under his old NZ under 20s coach Chris Boyd, inside the All Blacks midfield of Nonu and Conrad Smith.
Halfback TJ Perenara, Smith, Savea, Cory Jane and Matt Proctor, and Woodward, are all confirmed for the 2015 season.
If the Hurricanes can find their Retallick then the makings of a title-contending squad could take shape.
The current side still remains an outside chance of making this season's play-offs but has the bye in the final round and is dependent on other results.
Sunday Star Times