Thorn excited but realistic about title chances
For those getting a little exuberant over the Highlanders' prospects of ending their Super Rugby title drought this season, it's worth listening to the words of their 38-year-old rookie.
Brad Thorn has forgotten more than most rugby players will ever learn about playing for championships, and hoisted more silverware in his time than many a career burglar.
Yet he understands too well how difficult the Super Rugby title is to win, and how many factors you've got to get right to prevail against the very best from three countries.
Thorn has a cast-iron reputation as a winner, having claimed four NRL championships with the Broncos, and gone on to add New Zealand provincial, Super Rugby, Heineken Cup and World Cup crowns to his resume in the 15-a-side code.
Now he has elected to wind back the clock and play one more season of Super Rugby at the place where it all began.
The All Black legend was born in Mosgiel, just over the hill from Dunedin, and spent his first eight years in and around the Otago province before moving to Australia with his parents.
So he's as excited as anyone about the chance to contend for a championship with Jamie Joseph's tooled-up Highlanders. Plus exceedingly realistic about their prospects, even with himself, Ma'a Nonu and Tony Woodcock added to their solid core of international talent.
"For me having experienced being with the Crusaders, I know there's a lot of hard work in front of us," said Thorn, who sat out Friday's final pre-season hitout against the Blues because of calf tightness.
"It's a tough competition to win, and my outlook is very much one game at a time. There's a lot of things that have got to come together to have a successful season. At the moment it's very promising but we've got to keep our feet on the grass and just get on with it."
Thorn's seven seasons with the Crusaders reinforced one key thing to him.
"I was there with two of the best players in the world in Richie [McCaw] and Dan [Carter] and I only won one title in seven years. It's a team game, you've got to have luck with injuries, and it's a long hard season now with 16 rounds and three finals."
Not that Thorn is without hope.
"It's promising," he says. "The guys want to raise the bar, they want to achieve more, and so do I. But me being the conservative sort of guy I know there's a lot of hard work to do."
Thorn also makes a pledge to Highlanders fans around his surprise decision to come back from Japan.
"This is me saying I haven't forgotten where I come from. So I don't want to come back and not give my best effort. I want to have a good impact. I feel like I'm still in pretty good nick and keen to perform as best I can."
Those ambitions, though, do not include an All Black comeback.
"I had my time, and it was time to go. The All Blacks will always be something very dear to me, but these other guys have come along, done a great job and it's their time now."
Thorn meanwhile reveals that new Highlanders recruit Jake Parignatai, still recovering from a hand injury, was taken under his wing at the Sannix club in Japan.
"He's aggressive, a good ball-runner, and quite physical. I saw his raw material and thought there was potential for him to play Super Rugby. We talked about it, and I trained him as I train myself. He took to it and worked like a dog, with some really good results.
"He's very capable and I look forward to seeing him have a go."