Former Canterbury and Tasman Mitre 10 Cup rugby representative Caleb Makene is returning home to play for the Hawke's Bay Magpies.
Utility back Makene's two-year playing agreement with the Hawke's Bay Rugby Union was announced yesterday.
The 22-year-old former Napier Boys High School First XV captain and Hawke's Bay age group representative moved south to study environmental planning and management at Lincoln University in 2015.
He played nine games for Tasman in 2016, four for Canterbury in 2017 and 10 for the Cantabs last year. He is a member of the Crusaders' wider training squad and will return to the Bay when his Crusaders' commitments have finished.
"I've really enjoyed my time in Christchurch with Canterbury Rugby, I developed and progressed my rugby in a great environment and I was able to complete my studies at Lincoln University which I'm very proud of," Makene said.
"The opportunity to return to my home province and wear the black and white jersey is one I have always dreamed of doing and the timing is now perfect to make that happen. Growing up, I wanted to be a Magpie and I am excited about the prospect of running out in front of all my family and friends at McLean Park."
A member of the 2016 New Zealand under-20 team, Makene scored five tries in four games as the Baby Blacks finished fifth at their World Cup in England. Makene confirmed he will play his club rugby for Taradale.
"Taradale was my childhood club and I am looking forward to wearing the maroon jersey at any opportunity I get and doing my bit to help them win the Maddison Trophy."
Union CEO Jay Campbell said, "Securing Caleb is part of our overall strategy to retain and sign as many of our local talent as possible. We understand that at times players move to other provinces for a variety of reasons, the key for us is always ensuring that the door is open and when the timing's right, we get them back in black and white."
Magpies head coach Mark Ozich said, "Luring Caleb back home has been a two-year project and I'm delighted he's returning to bolster our squad. Caleb is a fullback with skill and speed and can cover most backline positions, so he offers the team plenty of versatility as well. Having coached Caleb with New Zealand Schools in 2014 I have always been aware of Caleb's abilities and I'm confident he will fit superbly with our squad moving forward."
Ozich agreed Makene's signing will help compensate for the departure of fullback JJ Taulagi to a division two club in France and for the unavailability of Tiaan Falcon who ruptured an Achilles tendon while training with his Chiefs Super Rugby team last month. Pasqualle Dunn, who played in the Magpies midfield during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, has returned to Auckland with his family.
Long-serving North Harbour sevens representative Ben Smith has returned home. A product of the Hastings Boys' High School First XV, Smith is playing sevens for MAC and Ozich said the centre-winger intends to push for a spot in the Magpies squad.
Smith has represented various New Zealand Development sevens teams over the years and was a member of the Hurricanes title-winning Hawke's Bay under-16 team in 2010 and the Hawke's Bay under-18s the following year. Another HBHS product, Antonio Mikaele-Tu'u, a twin brother of Highlanders and Magpies loosie Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, has also returned home after playing age group rugby for Waikato.
Another centre-winger, Mikaele-Tu'u, is playing club rugby for Hastings Rugby and Sports and is eyeing Magpies selection in the future.