Ma'a Nonu has unfinished business with Canes

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:01 17/07/2014
Ma'a Nonu
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ

HOMECOMING: Ma'a Nonu scores a try for the Hurricanes against the Stormers in 2008.

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Hand on heart, Ma'a Nonu will always be a proud Wellingtonian.

From that perspective he has unfinished business. The LeBron James of New Zealand rugby had to return home. Otherwise, his legacy where it matters most would feel incomplete.

In all likelihood, next year will be Nonu's last in New Zealand rugby. Yesterday he confirmed a one-year deal with the Hurricanes which extends through to the World Cup.

By that point he will be 33 and should have joined the select club of All Black centurions. And no-one would begrudge a genuinely loyal servant a deserved European payday to finish his career.

"Yeah, that would probably be nice," Nonu said when asked if a stint in France post-World Cup held appeal. "There's one more hurdle to get over; one more goal to achieve and then we'll assess that when the time is right."

Realistically, Nonu has two major goals.

The Hurricanes don't have to win the title next year for his move to be a success, but he must prove a positive influence and front consistently, as he did this season for the Blues.

Five Super Rugby teams in five years - that gives critics cause to linger.

In 2015, there will be no shortage of motivation. Sonny Bill Williams' presence in Super Rugby is yet another factor to ensure the Hurricanes should enjoy Nonu's best self.

The reasons behind Mark Hammett's decision to dump Nonu three years ago have been well aired. With the coach moving on, it's now time to bury the grudges.

Nonu attempted to mend fences last year. Now, with Chris Boyd's promotion smoothing the transition, he certainly seems to have made peace with the past.

"I could probably now thank him [Hammett] in terms of what happened," Nonu said. "I could honestly say I was bitter when I left. These things happen and life throws you challenges in terms of what you want to get out of it. I've come through a better person and have new motivations to play rugby.

"I've learned a lot over the last three years. I can honestly say it was a blessing in disguise, going to new places where I was really uncomfortable and vulnerable at times. You learn these things when you leave home. The last three years have been challenging but I wouldn't have wished for anything more to happen.

"I spent nine years with the Hurricanes and never left Wellington. Going to new cities [Auckland and Dunedin] was a chance to grow as a person and grow as a player."

Whatever your opinion, the combination of Nonu with the complementary skills of Beauden Barrett and Conrad Smith - to rekindle arguably New Zealand's greatest midfield pairing - forms a Rolls-Royce backline that the Hurricanes faithful can savour. All they need now is assistant coach John Plumtree to get that forward pack humming.

Oriental Rongotai's favourite son must do more than offer the invaluable midfield punch that Alapati Leiua provided too late for the Hurricanes this year.

Mentoring the likes of Ardie and Julian Savea, Matt Proctor, TJ Perenara and Jason Woodward - the same way he did Ihaia West and Bryn Hall at the Blues - should be part of the deal.

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The Blues have reason to be aggrieved that Nonu bailed halfway through his two-year agreement after being thrown a lifeline by coach Sir John Kirwan, but yesterday both parties put on a gracious front for the cameras.

"He's taught me a lot about life in the last seven months," Nonu said of Kirwan. "Those are experiences I would like to enjoy over the next five or six years."

Ultimately, the commute from Auckland to the capital took its toll. Sons Mercury, 5, and Michael, 2, were key factors in his desire to return home.

Regaining the respect of locals and forging a lasting legacy are now paramount.

- Stuff

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