With the Top League season finished for 2020, there was a very real possibility that New Zealand fans could see a host of Japan-based players return home to play in a super-sized provincial competition kicking off in September.
Kieran Read, the man who captained the All Blacks at last year’s World Cup, was one of the first to express interest in playing in the Mitre 10 Cup but it now appears unlikely that the man who grew up in Pukekohe but earned his stripes in Christchurch will don either Counties Manukau or Canterbury colours later this year.
“It’s a possibility,” Read told SkySport’s The Pod. “There needs to be a few things to happen. It’s exciting if the All Blacks are back playing in that competition. We’ll just have to wait and see if I’m there or not.”
Based on Read’s latest comments to Stuff, however, the All Blacks centurion seems unlikely to feature in the provincial competition.
“It’s been nice just training for training’s sake at the moment with nothing really on the horizon,” Read said. “I’m contracted in Japan, and I’m hoping to get back up there at the end of the year for their season starting early next year.
“Because of that contract it might make it a bit tougher to be playing here. We’ll see what happens. I feel like I’ve still got some footy in me in some aspects, so we’ll see how that goes.”
RugbyPass understands that players that are contracted to Top League teams for the competition’s 2020 season, which will kick off in January, will be required to suit up for pre-season as early as August – roughly a month before the Mitre 10 Cup commences for 2019.
Read, alongside other former All Blacks such as Ben Smith, Colin Slade and Elliot Dixon, is contracted for at least one more year in Japan and given the overlap between the Mitre 10 Cup and the Top League pre-season, will likely spend the rest of the year keeping his body in top condition.
An injury during the off-season could jeopardise Read’s availability to the Kobelco Steelers and if Read were to play in NZ’s provincial league, his contracted team would likely have to foot the bill for insurance costs – which would be sky-high, given his obligations to Kobelco.
Still, New Zealand fans could see a number of former All Blacks previously lost to the country turn out in this year’s Mitre 10 Cup. Both Liam Messam and Julian Savea are currently back in NZ after stints in France and with no known contracts on the table for next year, could be back for Waikato and Wellington respectively.
Current All Blacks are also expected to have a great presence in the competition than usual, given the lack of international fixtures on the cards for 2020.
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