Michael Hobbs' body will be wrapped in a Blues uniform this year but a fair slice of his brainpower and plenty of his heart will remain focused on Wellington.
Hobbs, 24, starts his Super Rugby comeback on Saturday, wearing the No10 jersey in the warmup match against the Hurricanes in Whangarei.
It's been a long battle back after being forced to miss last year's championship as he headed to Los Angeles to have screws inserted into his spine to correct a back injury that threatened a promising career that started with the Blues in 2009 and took off with the Highlanders the following year.
While in the US, the diligent Hobbs continued his studies towards a degree in finance and accountancy. He has one paper to go and will work on that during the Super Rugby season, liaising with his tutor at Victoria University.
"She will send me the materials, I will buy the text books and try and teach myself. I have to fly down for my final exam in June. It will be interesting, the last thing you want to do once you get home from a long training is read an accounting text book but I'm determined to finish this," he said.
Hobbs' emotional ties in the capital lie with his family, and the tug that came with leaving his famous father, Jock, who is battling a life-threatening illness.
"It's always tough going away from home, especially with the position that dad is in. We sat down and talked about it and thought that we'd go with the positive approach that things were going to be fine there and he was going to carry on and try and get healthy.
"So rather than sitting around in Wellington waiting for something to bad to happen, we'd just carry on with our lives.
"It's only an hour's flight and I have been down the last couple of weekends to see him. Everyone is pretty comfortable with the decision."
Hobbs said his injury had given him a new commitment to rugby. He realised he was being given a second chance and was determined to make the most of it.
"There were times I didn't think I'd be able to play again, especially when I was over in the States doing my rehab.
"The good thing about it is it has completely changed the way I approach every day with training.
"Before, I took a little bit for granted, but now, being so close to having it taken away from me I don't know how long it's going to last so I just want to make the most of this opportunity.
"I want to be able to look back with no regrets when I do eventually finish and turn my attentions to things outside rugby."
He said his back was feeling "the best it has since I was a teenager which is awesome".
Having been cleared to play again last year by his American surgeon he completed virtually all of the ITM Cup with Wellington. He did enough to generate interest in his services for the next level.
DESPITE the obvious opportunities that were opening up in the splintered Hurricanes camp, Hobbs didn't hesitate to realign with the Blues once he got an offer from their coach, Pat Lam.
Hobbs loved his time in Auckland as a city and a rugby destination. So it was a chance to rekindle some old friendships and also get a chance to prove that he could be a proficient first-five on this demanding stage.
"Pat was the first person to give me a chance at Super Rugby level in 2009 so I felt some loyalty towards Pat and the Blues for that opportunity. I loved being up [in Auckland] and I think after spending so much time in the States that Auckland is a big city and Wellington felt quite small when I was back there. And I just enjoyed the people.
"And I think for my life outside rugby with finance and accountancy, it's a good place to be to build networks."
For now, though, it's about rebuilding his rugby career. The No10 jersey has never had a comfortable fit in the Blues camp since the glory days of Carlos Spencer, then Nick Evans.
The versatile Hobbs wants to put up his hand, though he realises rookie Aucklander Gareth Anscombe is equally ambitious and Piri Weepu is also in the frame, switching between halfback and pivot.
"That is definitely where I want to be and that is another reason why I came to the Blues. Pat said he saw me as a 10 who could play 12 if needed. I have a bit of an opportunity to stake a claim on that No10 jersey."
HOBBS said he had quickly settled into the Auckland lifestyle and the Blues squad had the core of leading players from his previous stint. Helping the move was the growing Wellington influence, with Weepu and Alby Mathewson ensconced and Ma'a Nonu set to join the squad from Japan soon.
"It's been good catching up with them. Alby and I used to live together in Wellington. It's been an interesting road to get back here but it's been a very easy transition with a lot of familiar faces."
The faces will be just as familiar as he eyes the Hurricanes this weekend. He's expecting a highly motivated opposition.
"It can go two ways. With their situation they have a lot of young boys that are getting their chance.
"But they are going to have a lot to prove and they are going to want to repay Hammer and Alama for picking them. I expect them to come out firing on Saturday."
The Blues had the benefit of Graham Henry observing their training yesterday as the World Cup-winning All Blacks coach starts a tour of the New Zealand franchises to help the Kiwi effort.
Lam revealed that All Blacks forwards Jerome Kaino and Anthony Boric would play against the Hurricanes, with the other World Cup winners filtered in over the following weeks.
The Blues also had referee Glenn Jackson whistling the contact session as they looked to get up to speed with the current interpretations.
- © Fairfax NZ News