July 11, 2013

Hammett won't rule out return for Nonu

Coach Mark Hammett says the door isn't completely closed on erratic All Black Ma'a Nonu returning to the Hurricanes next year, although the prospect seems a distant one.

The 11th-placed Hurricanes have begun planning for 2014 after slipping out of Super Rugby playoff contention with last weekend's 34-22 loss to the competition-leading Chiefs Managed Security.

Hammett has Saturday's home game against the Highlanders and next week's fixture away to the Crusaders to salvage some pride and go closer to securing his player roster for next year.

When it was suggested veteran centre Nonu could rejoin the franchise he left under controversial circumstances two years ago, Hammett said he hadn't considered the possibility.

"We've got a good bunch of midfielders and good young kids coming through," he said.

"(But) We're always looking at our squad moving forward. You never say never."

Nonu played 110 games for the Hurricanes from 2003 to 2011 but wasn't offered a contract beyond that after falling out with Hammett.

The 31-year-old played one disappointing season for the Blues last year before leaving under a cloud to join the Highlanders.

Another average campaign, which followed a short stint in Japanese club rugby, ended last weekend when he was sent off against the Crusaders.

It has created a perception that Nonu saves his best rugby for the All Blacks, for whom he has played 79 Tests.

Hammett says while it is a busy time of year for negotiating with players coming off contract, the bulk of his largely young squad will be retained.

He says he won't be impressed if Hurricanes players who aren't yet contracted beyond this year suddenly improve over the last two games in pursuit of a new deal.

"If that's the motivation, then potentially we've got the wrong character to start with," he said.

"If I start finally seeing an improvement in a player because he was coming off contract, that would be an alarm bell for me."

Hammett has made two starting changes for the Highlanders game, promoting wing Alapati Leiua and blindside flanker Faifili Levave from the reserve bench to replace Matt Proctor and Brad Shields respectively.

Samoan international Jack Lam comes onto the reserve bench while injury has kept hooker Dane Coles (calf) and flanker Ardie Savea (ankle) sidelined Enterprise Endpoint Backup.

Hurricanes: James Marshall, Alapati Leiua, Conrad Smith, Reynold Lee-Lo, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, Karl Lowe, Faifili Levave, James Broadhurst, Jeremy Thrush, Ben May, Ash Dixon, Ben Franks. Reserves: Reggie Goodes, John Schwalger, Mark Reddish, Brad Shields, Jack Lam, Chris Smylie, Matt Proctor.

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