Don­ald thrilled to keep prom­ise to dad

Franklin County News - - SPORT -

Re­turn­ing Steeler Stephen Don­ald is de­lighted to have made good on a prom­ise he made to his dad to once again run out for Coun­ties Manukau.

It was an­nounced Tues­day that the hero of the 2011 Rugby World Cup would be head­ing back to the prov­ince where it all started for him.

Don­ald left Coun­ties af­ter the 2003 sea­son to join Waikato and then play for the Chiefs.

But while he went on to achieve im­mor­tal­ity for the All Blacks, his heart and that of his fam­ily’s al­ways re­mained in Coun­ties and his home town of Waiuku.

‘‘I made a prom­ise to my dad a few years ago that be­fore I fin­ish I’d have another crack with Coun­ties, so he’s happy now that I’ve hon­oured that to him,’’ Don­ald said af­ter ob­serv­ing the Steel­ers’ train­ing ses­sion in Ma­nurewa.

‘‘I’m just ex­cited to be back and play for a team that my friends and fam­ily can openly sup­port.’’

Don­ald, who hopes to play for the Steel­ers against Auck­land on Satur­day night, only made the de­ci­sion to switch to Coun­ties late last week and did have a few of­fers on the table which he didn’t take up.

‘‘A month or so ago I was still deep in­side Su­per Rugby and there were things from over­seas and Waikato still there and I wasn’t ready to make a call back then,’’ he said.

‘‘I didn’t make a call un­til late last week to be fair and at that stage the of­fer on the table was this, so it ended up be­ing a pretty easy choice.’’

Don­ald will also have an off field role at Coun­ties, where he’ll visit schools to en­cour­age young­sters to get ac­tive.It is some­thing the 33-year-old is also ex­cited about.

‘‘This is a won­der­ful re­gion and a di­verse part of the world. Parts of it bor­ders onto Auck­land and then you’ve got the ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties where I’m from.

‘‘Part of com­ing back is to do a fair bit of work in the schools and en­cour­aged kids to get ac­tive. I’m pretty ex­cited about hav­ing that role in this com­mu­nity.’’

The pro­vin­cial land­scape was very dif­fer­ent when Don­ald left Coun­ties. They were in the old NPC sec­ond di­vi­sion and at the time play­ers from smaller prov­inces had to move to the big­ger ones to in­crease their chances of pick­ing up a Su­per Rugby con­tract.

It cost Coun­ties Si­tiveni Si­vi­vatu as well as Don­ald, but he’s glad those times have changed.

‘‘I think it’s great how it’s struc­tured now,’’ he said.

‘‘If we’re be­ing bru­tally hon­est, back then if you were a (Su­per Rugby) base, you could pretty much prom­ise Su­per Rugby con­tracts through play­ing pro­vin­cial rugby for you.

‘‘Now the bases are just another team in the NPC and that’s made it great. Guys can now stay here then shift to Hamil­ton for Su­per Rugby, to con­tinue their ca­reer, but still stay with their lo­cal prov­ince.’’

In Don­ald’s ab­sence, Coun­ties had their low­est ever point where they nearly went bust and had to bat­tle New Zealand Rugby not to force them into the Heart­land Cham­pi­onship.

But they’ve also had suc­cess, no more so than in 2013 when they took the Ran­furly Shield off Hawke’s Bay.

Don­ald said he’d fol­lowed them through thick and thin.

‘‘I can tell you, I was sit­ting in my Ja­panese apart­ment when they won the Shield and I had a fairly big night by my­self that night!’’

Stephen Don­ald last played for Coun­ties in 2003.

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