Former All Black Rene Ranger's plans to return to rugby in New Zealand depend on recent neck surgery.
The 28-year-old signed for North Harbour with ideas of a full season of ITM Cup rugby after gaining an early release from his club in France.
However ongoing problems meant Ranger had surgery a fortnight ago to repair a herniated disc in his neck and while the operation was a success, the schedule for his return to rugby is unclear.
"He's in good spirits, the surgery went well and he still thinks he will be available for part of the ITM Cup so we'll see," Harbour coach Steve Jackson said.
"When he comes back in June we will get our medical staff all over it. He said he's in pretty good hands over there with the surgeons and his doctor at his club.
"The time to come back could be anywhere between three to six months, it depends. He is hopeful and upbeat and can't wait to play some footy in New Zealand."
Ranger began to lose some strength in his arm and scans pinpointed the problem. If he wanted to continue to play rugby, surgery was the only option.
Ranger played six tests for the All Blacks with his last against France in mid-2013 before leaving to play for the Montpellier club.
He appeared to have second thoughts about playing abroad and attempts were made to cancel the deal.
He has been able to negotiate an early release from that contract and signed on with North Harbour rather than his old Northland province, to be closer to Super Rugby work with the Blues next year.
Those auditions are now in limbo.
"He needs to be there for another month so the surgeon who operated on him can have another look at him and he is looking to come back some time in June," Jackson said.
Even if Ranger's recovery went without a hitch, Jackson thought it unlikely he would play in Harbour's opening ITM Cup game on August 14 against Bay of Plenty.
"Our competition goes to the end of October and whatever part Rene plays we will be more than happy to have him.
"His welfare is No1 and he's got Super commitments and family and all those sort of things to worry about. I told him to take his time and get himself 100 per cent.
"He's got ambitions to be an All Black again and has that burning desire in his belly.
"And this break will have done him wonders to show how he misses the life and footy here while it also gave him time to see what life's like in other parts of the world."