One of the heroes from New Zealand's Rugby World Cup triumph last year is leaving the country, but Jerome Kaino says will be back for the next crack.
Kaino, who played all but one minute in the All Blacks' successful campaign last year, announced today he is leaving New Zealand to join Japanese team Toyota on a two-year deal.
The lure of the Japanese yen proved too hard to turn down for last year's New Zealand rugby player of the year, but Kaino said the chance to take care of his family financially did not make his decision any easier.
"It was always a tough decision and it wasn't until long ago that I finally made the decision," he said. "My wife will tell you I haven't been the best guy to live with the last couple of weeks."
Helping to temper the angst surrounding his move is the timing. With a two-year contract set to begin later in the year, Kaino aims to be back in New Zealand rugby by 2014 - the year before the All Blacks' defence of the William Webb Ellis trophy.
"The next World Cup, I'll be 31 or so, so I think I'll still be in good shape for it.
"I want to get some experience overseas with the family ... but in a couple of years' time, that's what I want to do. I want to come back and hopefully challenge for that jersey again."
Whether that jersey will be there waiting for him remains to be seen, a fact Kaino was well aware of. He said the NZRU had given him no indication of whether the door would be open upon his return, but it certainly wouldn't be shut for a man who finished runner-up in the IRB player of the year awards last year.
"With me leaving, I leave the door open for someone else to take the jersey and take the spot. I'm not saying it's going to be easy if I decide to come back but it's all part of sport - you give someone an opportunity, it's a challenge to get back.
"Two years gives someone a huge opportunity to prove themselves in that All Blacks environment."
But Kaino, who has been ruled out of the Blues' Super Rugby campaign with a shoulder injury, thought his body might even be in better shape at the end of those two years.
"The body's taken a bit of a battering the last couple of years, and I think going over to Japan - I'm not saying it's going to be easy - but going over there will help with getting the body right."
While exact dollar figures weren't discussed, the deal is understood to be significantly larger than what the NZRU had tabled. Former All Black Craig Innes, a director at Kaino's management company, said remuneration was only one part of what made Toyota's offer attractive.
"[Kaino] basically could've gone to any of the top clubs in the world - we fielded offers and interest from pretty much everyone. It came down to working through a process of what it was that Jerome and, more important, the family would need."
With that knowledge, Kaino said he would be heading to Toyota with a clear head, something also aided by a self-evaluation of his career to date.
"If this is the last time that I put on the All Black jersey, then I'd say I'm pretty happy. But I don't think I'll be going to Japan thinking that it's the last time.
"I've still got the dream and that drive in my head that I'll come back and fight for it again."
- APNZBy Kris Shannon Email Kris