Ma'a Nonu will become the latest member of the Ngāti Porou East Coast rugby fraternity this weekend after he approached coach Hosea Gear, an old teammate.
Gear says Nonu raised the idea ahead of NPEC's Heartland Championship match against Horowhenua-Kapiti two weeks ago. "We caught up on the Friday night, and he raised the idea if we needed a hand. He came in on Saturday morning to present the jerseys and kept mentioning it, and I thought the old bro might be serious."
After the game in Levin, Gear's curiosity led him to ask Nonu what he meant and says the test Centurion's response was anything he could do to help Gear achieve his ambitions with the Coast.
"He obviously knew the situation we were in, and he knows the goals that I have for the team, the union and the community in terms of trying to build young leaders, so he was all on board to help out in any way he could.
"Pretty much the only condition he had was that I take the field with him and do a bit of reminiscing of old times.
"There'll be a couple of us old koro's coming off the bench. But it's pretty exciting, and the boys are fizzing."
Gear says he initially told his players after last weekend's loss to top of the table South Canterbury that 'a former All Black will be playing for us next weekend' but didn't say who until news broke just ahead of training on Thursday night. And he adds, it was the next bit of news about his own selection that really got the team excited. But he admits it was never something he thought of doing when he took the coaching reigns at the end of 2018.
"The boys have been asking me every day if I'm going to play, put the boots back on, and I'm always brushing them off. So I suppose from them always asking it was always there, that little bit of uncertainty in the back of my mind. I didn't think it would come to fruition.
"But once I told them that I was coming off the bench as well, there was a bit of eruption. It was pretty cool."
On the field, the Coast, the smallest union in the country has been struggling not having won a competitive game in 8 years. However, Gear has been impressed, if not surprised with how the team has performed this season.
While still winless, they have captured 3 bonus points against in their four games so far for close losses or scoring four tries. Impressively, three of those games have been against the top 3 sides, South Canterbury, Thames Valley and Horowhenua-Kapiti, while their opening match was a high-scoring 39-31 loss against defending Meads Cup champions North Otago.
"Probably done better than expected, but I've always believed that the boys will be able to get up and be competitive.
"I was confident we might be able to knock one of them over, but we came close.
"I've said to the boys as long as we're learning, as long as we're taking things away from those games. We haven't lost through a lack of talent or ability. If anything we let ourselves down."
Conversely, Buller has had a season to forget so far, conceding 127 points in the first four rounds. But he isn't anticipating the bottom of the table Buller will be easy beats tomorrow.
"They're not the same team from those first two rounds where they lost by 40 or 50 and 70 points against Poverty Bay. Against Thames Valley, they were leading at halftime. We know it's not going to be easy, but I think everyone's excited that there is an opportunity to come away with the win."
It will be the first win in 54 Heartland Championship matches, stretching back to September 2013. Gear says his focus this season, that he's trying to instil in his squad isn't on breaking that unwanted streak as much as it is getting in a position to make it happen.
"Obviously that's a goal, but it's an outcome goal to win a game. A lot of processes and have to be had before we get there. The focus is on our performance, what we're trying to do in the game."
Ngāti Porou East Coast will play Buller at Whakarua Park in Ruatorea at 2.30 pm on Saturday 16 October, with live stream coverage provided by Radio Ngāti Porou on its Facebook page.