Kelly Haimona is coming home.
The Bay of Plenty Rugby Union announced today that Haimona has returned to the region and has signed with the union for the next two Mitre 10 Cup seasons.
Haimona, 29, has recently returned from Italy, to play for his local club Whakarewarewa. Haimona left in 2011 to play club rugby in Italy for Zebre and earned selection in the Italian national side, La Squadra Azzurra, in 2014, playing 11 tests and scoring 65 points.
Signing for the Bay of Plenty and returning home for Haimona was an easy decision to make: "Home is always home and the last six years I have been missing it a lot, the opportunity came up to come home and I took it with both hands.
"It was a different experience playing in Italy. Rugby is very different over there, it is very forward-orientated and I had to adapt to the style and more or less the culture they played. I learned a lot from my experience over there and hopefully I can bring that into the mix here," said Haimona.
"Definitely the squad has changed a lot since I was last here in 2008. There is a good feeling amongst the team and we are looking to achieve big things. We have some young players and together it will be a great season ahead of us."
He played 15 games for the Steamers, the last of which was in 2008.
Haimona will not only take the field for the Bay of Plenty Steamers, but will be involved in the delivery of a number of community rugby projects, including junior rugby and Maori rugby. Haimona will focus mainly on Rotorua and the wider Central Bay of Plenty but will also support Maori rugby and youth participation throughout the Bay region.
"I am definitely looking forward to it. It is a role that I have wanted to do my whole life and definitely after rugby. This opportunity with the union will be great and I am looking forward to working with them and supporting junior rugby," said Haimona.
Bay of Plenty Rugby Union chief executive Mike Rogers welcomed Haimona home: "It is great to be able to welcome back Kelly. He is a fantastic ambassador for Bay rugby and also Maori rugby. He has been able to have some fantastic experiences through rugby and using his skills and experience to help our young players and especially young Maori players is a great way he can contribute to our game and our community. "