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'He would not look out of place': Ma'a Nonu tipped for Super Rugby comeback

By Alex McLeod

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Former All Blacks star Ma’a Nonu has been tipped for a Super Rugby comeback by a former All Black and teammate.

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Nonu stole headlines last week after he made a surprise return to New Zealand rugby over the weekend when he turned out for Ngati Porou East Coast against Buller in the Heartland Championship.

The 39-year-old midfielder joined former All Blacks wing Hosea Gear and ex-Manu Samoa loose forward Faifili Levave in making their debuts off the bench for the minnow province in their 50-26 victory in Ruatoria.

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All Blacks great Ma’a Nonu turns out for East Coast in Heartland Championship
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All Blacks great Ma’a Nonu turns out for East Coast in Heartland Championship

The win was East Coast’s first in eight years after they last beat Poverty Bay in 2013, but much of the focus from the result was the rare appearance of Nonu in New Zealand rugby’s grassroots scene.

Following Nonu’s outing in New Zealand’s amateur provincial competition, former All Blacks and Blues hooker James Parsons backed the seasoned veteran to make what would be a shock return to Super Rugby.

Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Parsons – who was Nonu’s teammate at the Blues in 2012, 2014 and 2019 – said the two-time World Cup-winning All Blacks centurion will still be in hot demand worldwide despite his age.

Nonu will turn 40 during next year’s inaugural Super Rugby Pacific campaign, but Parsons believes he has shown enough to still make an impact in professional rugby.

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“I’d say he’s still wanted around the globe, with what he can add, and that just shows how much he still loves the game,” the two-test All Black told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod of Nonu.

“He’s not looking to have a rest. He’s going out and playing footy. He’s keeping footy fit and any opportunity he can play with 30 people on the field, he’s up for it, no matter the level.

“He’s always been like that, though. He’s always gone back to club rugby and he’s never, ever not delivered at every level throughout his time, even as an AB.

“Jerry Collins was the same. They just love playing footy, and it was great to see, and he [Nonu] would certainly not look out of place in Super Rugby, I have no doubt about that.”

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Parsons’ comments come as rumours suggest that Super Rugby expansion franchise Moana Pasifika are in the market for Nonu’s signature.

Of Samoan heritage, Nonu would join a growing number of former test stars such as ex-Wallabies duo Christian Leali’ifano and Sekope Kepu in the Moana Pasifika roster if he joined the Auckland-based outfit.

Such a move would represent Nonu’s third foray into Super Rugby after having already made 174 Super Rugby appearances for the Hurricanes, Blues and Highlanders between 2003 and 2019.

The 103-test midfielder has spent time abroad in France with Toulon and in the United States with the San Diego Legion, and is also linked with a move back to the Californian side ahead of the 2022 Major League Rugby season.

Before any of that comes to fruition, Nonu could make another appearance for East Coast, with Gear, the province’s assistant coach, revealing that his former teammate is “keen” to don the sky blue jersey again this year.

Regardless of where he ends up next, Parsons said Nonu would still be able to offer plenty following his performance for East Coast.

“His kicking game is exceptional. One kick was outstanding,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“Albeit, it’s about Ma’a and him going back because he still currently plays, coming from France back here, and I think last time he came back he represented the Blues and didn’t look one bit out of touch, so he’s certainly in great rugby condition.”

Parsons also reserved praise for Gear, who made his first appearance in first-class rugby since retiring from the game professionally three years ago after Nonu said he would only play for East Coast if his ex-All Blacks, Hurricanes and Highlanders teammate played as well.

“Hosea Gear looked great, too, on the left edge. Some barnstorming runs, and that classical running style of his, it was literally like reuniting the old band back together. All they needed was a yellow jersey [of the Hurricanes].”

Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:

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'He would not look out of place': Ma'a Nonu tipped for Super Rugby comeback

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