It's been five years since Tanerau Latimer wore the blue and gold hoops of the Bay of Plenty Steamers but he wanted it to happen again.

"We always knew we're going to come home. It was just a matter of when," he told the Bay of Plenty Times at the combined launch of the Mitre 10 Cup and Farah Palmer Cup (FPC) in Auckland yesterday.

Bay of Plenty's Christie Yule and Tanerau Latimer at the combined Mitre 10 Cup and Farah Palmer Cup season launch. Photo / William Booth / www.photosport.nz
Bay of Plenty's Christie Yule and Tanerau Latimer at the combined Mitre 10 Cup and Farah Palmer Cup season launch. Photo / William Booth / www.photosport.nz

Few have had as long or as distinguished rugby careers as the 32-year-old loose forward.

He made his Steamers debut as a 17-year-old Tauranga Boys College student in 2004.

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During the next 10 seasons he played 79 games for the Bay, interspersed with a Commonwealth Games Sevens gold medal, a Super Rugby career (initially with the Crusaders and then the Chiefs) and five tests for the All Blacks in 2009.

But he's unsure about what kind of role he'll have during the hectic 10-match Mitre 10 Cup schedule beginning Saturday week against Taranaki in Rotorua.

"First thing is to get back on the field. I've had a few issues with my calf muscles so I have to sort that out, but I'm excited about getting on the park with some of the young guys and playing some good footy."

He's sees the tough early season schedule for the Steamers as a challenge.

Last year's championship runners-up play their four crossover matches against Premiership sides in their first five games.

"To be honest, we're looking forward to it. It's going to be a good yardstick to see where we're at. So bring it on."

He played 40 minutes during the Game of Three Halves in Taihape on July 27 and, in his own words, "thought he didn't go too bad".

But although he's the veteran of the loose forward group, Latimer doesn't know what coach Clayton McMillan has in mind for him during the Mitre 10 Cup season. Will he be a regular starter or more of an impact player off the bench?

"Happy wherever. Whatever Clayton wants to do with me, I'll be happy to do the role."

No player lasts as long in professional rugby as Latimer, especially in the high-collision loose forward positions, without a superb level of fitness and it's here that Latimer's experience and professionalism is showing through with some other members of the squad.

"At the moment I'm in the Dawn Raiders group. As the name suggests we're up early, helping the boys who need a bit of extra fitness. But I enjoy doing that as well."

Since 2014, Latimer has been following the lucrative life of a pro, first in Japan with Toshiba, and then with Bayonne in France.

If those experiences taught him anything, it was about becoming self-sufficient in looking after his body in order to stay on the field.

"I found out a lot about becoming independent. You might find the physios or the medical team are not up to the standard that you're used to here, so you find out little ways that help you cope to get through the season."

Latimer is one of four flankers named in the Steamers squad. But one of them is All Blacks regular Sam Cane, unlikely to play in the Mitre 10 Cup.

So he'll compete for game time with Te Puke's Hugh Blake and the former Aucklander Mitchell Karpik.

That suggests Latimer will see plenty of on-field action but then the numbers suggest he has plenty to contribute.

His 79 appearances for the Bay are nearly double that of Blake, Karpik, Cane and the two number 8s, AJ Lafaele-Mua and Hoani Matenga, put together.