By CHRIS RATTUE
Walter Little, one of the great All Black midfield backs, has made an earlier than intended return from Japanese rugby and could line up for North Harbour this season.
The 33-year-old Little, his wife Tracy and their four sons, aged from 14 months to 10 years, arrived back this week from Japan where Little played for the Sanyo club for two years.
He will turn out for his old Glenfield club in the North Harbour competition and isn't looking too far beyond that yet.
But North Harbour chief executive Doug Rollerson is already determined to get Little "back in our NPC family," and the player was also hopeful.
"If the opportunity arose I would love to get back into that level of rugby here again. You really miss being part of it when you're away," said Little, who formed one of the most famous and enduring rugby partnerships in All Black history with centre Frank Bunce.
"I want to get back into club rugby and just get the enjoyment back. Then whatever develops out of that ... I don't want to look too far ahead right now."
Little played 50 tests over 10 seasons up until 1998. He said his last visit to New Zealand made him realise how much he missed the lifestyle here, and his decision to return home a year earlier than intended was made when contract negotiations did not go as well as planned.
He had enjoyed his time in Japan, where his three eldest sons became fluent in Japanese - although it was a tougher task for their parents.
Little said life had become easier for the families of foreign rugby players in Japan, because more of them - rather than just single players - were on the scene.
There were also more foreign players there, although each team is limited to two imports on the field at any time.
There was also increasing use of foreign coaches, which was bringing more structure to their game, which had been based on natural enthusiasm, speed and flair in the past, he said.
Rollerson said that Little was among the most popular of players and could also act as a guiding light for youngsters such as first five-eighths Luke MacAlister.
"In his own quiet way Walter is one of those players that others really look up to. It's very exciting to have him back."
North Harbour might also have 34-year-old former All Black forward Blair Larsen, also back from Japan, in NPC contention this year.