The return of the prodigal son to the land of the Taniwha has fans rightly excited.

Rene Ranger is synonymous with Northland rugby and his return has the supporters buzzing, but will it help them improve on a strong 2017 Mitre 10 Cup campaign? Absolutely.

Northland enjoyed their first semifinal berth since 2014 last season as a new defensive steel took them to five victories across the year.

It's no coincidence that Northland enjoyed huge crowd bumps in 2017 with the return of Ranger and with him coming back again this season along with a strong team, the decision seems to be mutually beneficial.


For Ranger, he gets to return to his home turf and be near his family. For fans they see a local legend ply his trade in the Cambridge Blue. And as for the Northland Rugby Union - more bums on seats and talent on the roster.

Ranger has been a frustrating player for people outside the Blues catchment.

He's a player with transcendent talent who never quite kicked on, though not for a lack of passion. His ability to break tackles is something to behold - James O'Connor will never forget his introduction to Super Rugby by the way of a rampaging Ranger.

As his career progressed, Ranger showed the rare ability of being a back who was strong in the ruck area. He was almost unmovable over the ball after a tackle.

Unfortunately his seemingly impending All Blacks career never really eventuated.

French rugby offered him a way to financially secure his young family and, in 2013, he decided to take that in lieu of what was probably a 2015 World Cup squad spot.

However a clustered midfield battle with all-time greats Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith as well as the returning Sonny Bill Williams and Malakai Fekitoa about to burst on to the scene for a strong two-year period, his break ultimately never came.

But now he's back playing in Te Tai Tokerau and will no doubt be an important senior head in Northland's 2018 Mitre 10 Cup run.


With Jack Goodhue's star on the rise his contributions to Northland may be limited and with a young centre core coming through, Ranger's wealth of top flight experience will be invaluable.

Blues squad member Tamati Tua has had a taste of Mitre 10 Cup rugby, as has Kamo standout Blake Hohaia, but neither have reached double figures in appearances.

New face Regan Verney has also played some provincial code while Scott Gregory is a talent yet to be tested on that stage.

Northland definitely have the talent and coaching to return to the championship semifinals in 2018 and potentially go beyond their 2017 finish.

The core of their 2017 outfit returns while a wave of new recruits including Melbourne Rebels pivot Jack Debreczeni add a new flavour to the squad.

The loss of exciting prospect Solomon Alaimalo at the back will be sorely felt but there will be players to put up their hands in his absence.

With Derren Witcombe at the helm once again, there's no doubting their defence will continue to be a staple of their play.

Northland fans now have big expectations for their local lads, and rightly so after trending positively in 2017, and with Ranger in tow supporter buy-in will be at an all-time low.

But will their faith be rewarded? Time will only tell.