Donald thrilled to keep promise to dad
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.