Tim Bateman to rejoin Crusaders for 2017 season
New Zealand Maori midfielder Tim Bateman is returning to the Crusaders - 10 years after he made his debut.
The 29-year-old will be unveiled on Wednesday morning as part of the Crusaders' 2017 squad.
Bateman, a West Coaster who captained the Christchurch Boy's High School first XV after moving to Canterbury with his family, played 38 games for Canterbury between 2006 and 2009 and appeared 35 times for the Crusaders from 2007 to 2010.
The one-time New Zealand Maori captain later shifted to the capital and turned out 22 times for Wellington and on 37 occasions for the Hurricanes between 2010 and 2014.
Bateman left New Zealand in mid-2014 for two seasons with the Coca Cola club in Japan so his wife, Laura, could get access to multiple sclerosis treatment that wasn't available at home.
The family returned to Christchurch this year and purchased a flotation therapy business and Bateman made a rugby return, playing for Tasman B before training with the Canterbury Mitre 10 Cup team to gain some match fitness for the New Zealand Maori tour to the United States.
Canterbury coach Scott Robertson must have liked what he saw because he has named Bateman in his first squad as Crusaders head coach.
Bateman, a specialist second five-eighth noted for his game management intelligence and leadership qualities, will add depth to the Crusaders midfield, alongside All Black Ryan Crotty.
With so many young players in the 2017 squad, Bateman's experience and mentoring ability will be crucial - particularly in a season where the senior All Blacks will have the added focus of the British and Irish Lions tour and with midfielders Robbie Fruean (Bath) and Kieron Fonotia (Swansea) now off-shore.
Bateman made it clear to Stuff last month that he was keen to return to top rugby.
"I am still feeling good enough to keep playing, anyway. Having four for five months time off rugby, taking time with the family, studying and getting the business up and running has been good.
"Stepping back, and looking at the game from the outside, has been really good because I have never really had the chance to do that before."
Bateman and Crotty will be joined in midfield by former Junior All Black centre Jack Goodhue, who missed last year's Super Rugby season with a knee injury, but was in fine form for Canterbury in the national provincial championship campaign.
Robertson is understood to have promoted two promising young players each from the Canterbury and Tasman Makos NPC grand finalists.
There could be a place for Alex Nankivell, the Makos midfielder who played for the CBHS first XV and Lincoln University. He caught the eye in the NPC campaign.
The Crusaders - having lost Nemani Nadolo and Johnny McNicholl - have signed former Wallaby Digby Ioane as a high profile wing. But there may also be a place for George Bridge, who looked sharp for Canterbury this season.
Shannon Frizell, the rawboned Makos flanker, might also get a project player slot now Reed Prinsep has defected to the Hurricanes.
Frizell, 22, is 1.95m tall and can cover lock so he could fill the bill left by swingman Jimmy Tupou, who has joined the Blues. He also has impact appeal off the bench.
Flanker Jed Brown, another who missed the 2016 Super season with injury, should have done enough to earn the berth as All Blacks openside Matt Todd's back-up.
Lock Mitchell Dunshea, Canterbury's rookie of the year in 2015, missed the latest NPC season through injury, but was part of the Crusaders' 2016 wider training and, if fit, could earn a call-up alongside All Blacks squad members Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano and Scott Barrett.
The third hooker spot - behind test rake Codie Taylor and Ben Funnell - should go to Tasman's Andrew Makalio, 24, who deserves elevation after consistent form for the Makos, but ex-Aucklander Nathan Vella could get the nod if Makalio is lured further north.