Once the enfant terrible of New Zealand rugby, Rua Tipoki returned to New Zealand in 2004 after a stint in Japan.
He was keen to restore a battered image and rebuild a promising career that had collapsed after he fabricated a story about how he broke both his wrists in a gym accident when in fact it had happened when he punched someone playing in an unsanctioned tournament.
Waikato coach John Mitchell told the midfielder he'd be in the squad as long as he kept out of trouble. But Tipoki was sent o in a club game for talking back to the referee and that was it.
On the eve of the NPC, Tipoki was cut by Waikato. His plans were in chaos until Bay of Plenty took him on a loan deal. Tipoki got an early chance, played superbly and ended up being their player of the season.
The Bay won the Ranfurly Shield – even defended it against Waikato in a game where Tipoki was at his best – and went on to make the NPC semifinals.
Tipoki was even acknowledged at the end of the year by the All Blacks selectors, who said he came close to making their squad.
While he didn’t make the All Blacks he did win a contract with the Blues, which allowed him to move on to Munster and become a local hero there.