Rugby: All Blacks great Ma'a Nonu confirmed for Heartland Championship stint with Ngāti Porou East Coast

  • 14/10/2021

A week after All Black captain Sam Cane turned out for King Country in the Heartland Championship, one of the greatest centers to wear the black jersey is following in his footsteps.

Ngāti Porou East Coast have confirmed Ma'a Nonu will grace Ruatoria's Whakarua Park on Saturday as the home side looks to break an eight-year, 54-match losing streak against Buller.

Speaking to Stuff, coach and former All Black himself, Hosea Gear says having the 103-test veteran in the ranks is a massive plus for the competition and the union.

"I was hoping to slip it under the radar but obviously in New Zealand that’s near impossible," coach Gear tells Stuff.

Nonu has bounced around the globe since playing his final test - the World Cup final against the Wallabies in 2015. 

The 39-year-old had a 2019 Super Rugby stint with the Blues, has appeared for French giants Toulon and played a season with the San Diego Legion in IS Major League Rugby.

Gear says the idea of tempting Nonu back came when he incited his old teammate to give a pre-match speech ahead of East Coasts 38-31 defeat at the hands of Horowhenua-Kapiti two weeks ago.

"Me and Ma’a are pretty close, we’ve spent a lot of time together, so I asked if he was free for a catchup and if he’d like to present our jerseys, which he did.

"We got talking from that, and he offered to come through and give us a hand.

"At first I thought he was joking, as the boys always do, then it turned serious and I reached out to him again to see if it would work around his family commitments.

"Luckily for us, he’s all good to go this weekend."

Hosea Gear
Hosea Gear

Gear says they had to get Nonu's inclusion rubber-stamped by New Zealand Rugby, which was confirmed on Monday.

It was also revealed Nonu had one condition on making his East Coast appearance - that his old mate Hosea Gear joins him in the coming weeks. 

"We’ll both be in 20-something [jersey numbers],” says. 37-year-old Gear.

"I couldn’t say no, so I’m quietly hoping I don’t have to get out on the field. It was the only way I could get him to come here.

"It adds to us in terms of what we’re trying to build here on the Coast.

"Yes we haven’t had a lot of results - for about eight years we haven’t won a game - and we’re just focusing on trying to build leaders within our communities and change habits and change mindsets.

"Bringing Ma’a in really adds huge value because of the player he is, the man he is and the things he’s achieved on and off the field, are really key elements we can use to develop young good men and leaders."