Former Blues and Hurricanes player Shannon Paku says he realised he needed to start thinking seriously about his future when he bought his first house.

He was 23 and, when he took out his first mortgage, he concluded he had to make the most of the money he was earning. He also realised he had access to a bank of advice and support that could help him get ahead if he made the effort.

"I came to see that there were great opportunities for me," he says. "When we had sponsors' functions, and the like. I would go and network and keep in touch because you would meet good people who were willing to have a coffee with you and help. I knew that, when I finished playing, I wanted to run my own business, so I was working towards that while I was playing."

He was playing in France towards the end of his career and had an offer to play in England for one more year. But he'd kept in touch with the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association while offshore and always said if the chance came up to start a business when he felt he had only another year of rugby left, he'd rather stop playing.


He rejected the English club and returned to New Zealand where he bought a milk truck to begin a dairy distribution business.

"I had a strategic plan to learn the business and then acquire more trucks and runs. At first it was really hard work - 100-plus [hour] weeks. I had to start again - learn a new business from the bottom up.

"But I knew I could do it because I had done it in rugby. I was OK with things like walking through the airport with a high-vis jacket or pushing a trolley with milk on it and people looking, knowing who you are. I had to start somewhere."

Paku says that some of his compatriots haven't found it as easy to set their egos aside and rebuild their lives after their rugby careers.

"When I was playing, you could look around the changing room and get a sense of who was going to do well and who was going to struggle [after playing]," he says.

"The resources at our disposal were incredible and they are even better now. We are incredibly lucky and really it comes down to individuals and how much they want to utilise what they have access to.

"Ultimately, you can take a horse to water but you can't make it drink."