Justin Collins, or Gus as he is known throughout the rugby world, was not your typical Kiwi kid.

Born in Tasmania, he moved to Whangarei in 1984 at the age of 10. Upon arrival in New Zealand, the Australian, who was raised on Aussie Rules, initially thought rugby was "just a strange game".

"The whole passing backwards thing, it took me a couple of years to get my head around it," Collins said.

The only reason he started playing was because his mates were involved. Unlike a lot of young Kiwis, there was never the dream of playing for the All Blacks. "I didn't have visions of playing for the highest team. I would just focus on the next step," he said.


He started by making the 1st XV at Kamo High School and then stepped up to Whangarei club rugby. Before long, he'd made the Taniwha, playing 114 games for the provincial team throughout his career.

The next step was Super Rugby but, by 1998, he'd cracked it - but not for the team you'd think. At the time, Northland was Chiefs territory so Collins would commute through the Blues region of Auckland and Counties-Manukau to get to Chiefs training.

In 1999, the territories switched, the Blues losing Counties and picking up Northland and North Harbour.

After 10 caps with the Chiefs, Collins changed allegiance to the Blues and, from 1999 to 2009, earned 92 caps for the team.

He said the team's success came from the confidence each player had in himself and in the others. He said each of his fellow Blues men brought unique skills and personality to the team. Speaking highly of his fellow Northland and Blues' teammate Rupeni Caucaunibuca, Collins said: "He could win a game for you any time he wanted."

By 2009, Collins was 35 and "pretty much at the end" of his Super Rugby career. The head knocks were beginning to impact his game and it reached a point where a tackle would make him dizzy. "As a loose forward, if you can't make a physical impact you're no use to anybody," he said.

After 16 years of first-class rugby, he hung up the boots.

Having already spent a few years truck driving before he made it to Super Rugby and became a full-time professional, he said the transition back to the regular workforce wasn't too difficult. At the start of 2010, he started working with Croft Poles as a truck driver. A year later, he was hired as a sales representative and he's been doing that since.

Collins and his wife of 11 years continue to live in Whangarei but, on the odd occasion, he dabbles in some "golden oldies" footy.

"It's limited to no contact and it's really just a bunch of older guys having a run around and then a few drinks," he said. "That's what rugby was all about originally."