Think Daniel Carter, at least in this iteration of his rugby career, and Brendon McCullum quickly comes to mind.
Not because of that tired old tale from when they were schoolboys, but because McCullum – like Carter – continued to play franchise-level sport long after his international career came to an end.
There was a headline the other day suggesting Carter was one of the poorer marquee signings in French Top 14 history. What nonsense, for starters.
But what irrelevant nonsense too.
Carter, in case anyone has forgotten, signed off from real footy by winning the 2015 Rugby World Cup title. Not every world-class or great player gets a storybook ending, but that was Carter’s.
The McCullum-captained Black Caps didn’t quite manage the same, losing to Australia in the 2015 Cricket World Cup final. The skipper stayed on for another year, eventually bowing out in brilliant style by scoring a 54-ball hundred against Australia that remains the fastest in test history.
The Twenty20 leagues beckoned thereafter, where McCullum enjoyed varying degrees of success.
From time to time a headline would surface suggesting he was past it or criticising him for a run of low scores. Of course he was past it, that’s why he had retired from proper cricket.
Sky Television have been running ‘A Week with Warnie’ chronicling the career of the great Australian legspinner Shane Warne. Among the highlights was the story of how, while Mic’d up, Warne bowled McCullum around his legs in the first season of the Big Bash League.
Warne was past it then, too. But such was his name and charisma and ability to still deliver the odd bit of magic, that the competition organisers moved heaven and earth to convince him to play.
He might not have been the Warne of old, but his sheer presence was enough to generate plenty of public and spectator interest.
Which brings us back to Carter.
Cricket can be a dangerous, even deadly, sport. On the whole, though, it tends to be kinder on the body than rugby is.
An older player, such as McCullum and Warne, might not move so well in the field anymore, but they’re not likely to get hurt.
Daniel Carter is 38-years-old and coming off neck surgery. First and foremost, having signed with the Blues, you want him to get through Super Rugby Aotearoa in one piece.
You also want him to enjoy it.
People were already excited about this competition, but the addition of Carter has taken that to a whole other level. We won’t be getting the Carter of 2005, as former All Blacks mastermind Wayne Smith has noted, but we’ll still be getting a class act.
The benefit of Warne and McCullum to some of those Twenty20 teams was experience. They’d been in every imaginable situation before and were well aware of how valuable that knowledge was to their team-mates.
We’ve every reason to expect Carter will start the odd game for the Blues. Every reason to expect he’ll have some starring moments too.
But if they’re only fleeting or if he’s only capable of cameos from the bench, that won’t diminish his standing or legacy and it surely won’t impact his ability to educate those around him.
We all marvel at Beauden Barrett, for instance. All enjoy the sight of him running around defenders or placing pinpoint crosskicks into the hands of far off team-mates.
But there’s also times when you worry about Barrett’s game-management and ability to rally sides in difficult situations. Barrett’s teams can often be great frontrunners, but don’t always look so assured when trying to come from behind.
Now Barrett gets a belated, and unexpected, chance to re-learn at the feet of the master. To go back to his early All Blacks days when Carter was the benchmark for first five-eighths everywhere.
The Blues have had the talent to contend for titles for a while now. What they’ve lacked is the composure and accuracy that’s required as well.
Now, in one fell swoop, they get Barrett and Carter and an opportunity to do something remarkable.
Whether Carter’s greatest contribution to the Blues’ season comes as a player or as a mentor, remains to be seen. What’s undeniable is that his has been a great career and that it’s a treat to have him around again.
Just don’t demand too much of him.
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