All Blacks captain Sam Cane and South African star Cheslin Kolbe, just a month ago adversaries in the Rugby World Cup 2023 final, are now united under the banner of Tokyo Sungoliath in Japan’s Rugby League One.
The signing of Cane, who was red-carded in the first half of the dramatic final clash that South Africa won 12-11, marks the first time the skipper will play for a club outside of his homeland, bringing a new set of challenges.
“I want to get better at my game – speed, agility – and those are all required in this league,” the 31-year-old said. “It will test me to evolve my game, and I’m really looking forward to that.”
Teaming up with Kolbe, who had his own share of trials during the final when he was sent to the bin in the last few minutes of the match, Cane is set to face off against top Japanese players and international talents. Reflecting on the new challenge, Cane noted: “That’s one of the exciting things about this competition. You’re playing against a lot of the top Japanese players and a lot of players who come from abroad.”
As the Japan Rugby League One season kicks off on December 9, Cane is not alone in his venture. Joining him are fellow New Zealanders Ardie Savea, Richie Mo’unga, Shannon Frizell, Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett, all contributing to the growing international presence in Japanese rugby.
Unlike their South African counterparts, New Zealand players face restrictions on representing the All Blacks while playing for overseas clubs. However, Cane’s one-season deal ensures that he remains available for selection come June next year, as he discussed at length with incoming coach Scott Robertson.
“Playing for the All Blacks, you have to earn that by playing well every week,” Cane said. “I know the All Blacks coaches will be keeping an eye on some of us boys over here. The sole focus is just to play well, try and improve as a rugby player, and hopefully have the opportunity of returning to the team again.”
With Cane’s sights set on personal growth and adaptation to the unique challenges of the Japanese league, the All Blacks captain is poised for a transformative season, providing a fascinating subplot to the upcoming Rugby League One campaign.