Ma’a Nonu ended his New Zealand rugby career in 2015 for a stint in France as a two-time Rugby World Cup winner and the recipient of the 2015 Kelvin R Tremain NZ Rugby Player of the Year award.
Nonu ended the 2011 Super Rugby season on 110 caps for the Hurricanes and in red hot form, having helped the All Blacks to their second Rugby World Cup victory. Nonu cemented himself as amongst the best midfielders in the world during the tournament in a big year for him ahead of his departure from the Hurricanes to the Blues for 2012.
The previous year, 2010 was also massive for Nonu. Amongst many highlights, his sixth try of the season against the Chiefs in round 12 brought up his 40th career try and 200th career point, one of seven Hurricanes to surpass that milestone. Only Christian Cullen (56 tries in 85 games) and Tana Umaga (47 in 122 games) have scored more tries for the franchise.
He also played his 50th Test for the All Blacks in 2010, against Australia in the Bledisloe Cup in August.
Nonu’s 2010 season followed arguably his best season in Hurricanes colours in 2009, seemingly breaking the line at will and ending 2009 as the Super 14’s leading try scorer with nine tries.
After a relatively quiet start to 2009, Nonu exploded on to the competition stage with several match winning efforts, constantly breaking the line on attack and forming a solid midfield partnership with centre Conrad Smith. He appeared in every game in 2009 and ended the season as the franchise’s joint third most capped player with 85 caps under his belt since his debut in 2003. He has now scored 34 tries for the franchise, comfortably third most behind Christian Cullen (56 tries) and his mentor Tana Umaga (47).
This followed on from an outstanding 2008 when he proved a constant threat to all opposition he with seven Super 14 tries en route to earning an All Black recall after being left out of the World Cup squad in 2007. He then ended the year as comfortably the All Black’s first choice second five-eighth and was picked in the 12 jersey for the start of the 2009 international season in June.
Famous for his bulldozing exploits on the field, Nonu has also suffered his share of setbacks since he literally burst onto the New Zealand rugby scene in 2002 and 2003.
Still aged 25 at the end of the 2008 Super 14 season, Nonu had five seasons and over 70 caps for the Hurricanes under his belt, as well as 18 test caps for the All Blacks and 54 caps for the Wellington Lions. He ended 2009 as undoubtedly the All Blacks’ first choice second five-eighth, extending his Test tally to 46 appearances.
Nonu’s rise to fame was rapid. He was elevated to the Hurricanes in 2003 after one NPC season for the Wellington Lions in 2002, when he carried his sublime club rugby form on to the first class stage. In an outstanding club season for his Oriental-Rongotai side, he and New Zealand Sevens teammate Roy Kinikinilau scored 22 tries between them.
His elevation continued unabated in 2003, setting the Super 12 alight and forming a formidable partnership in the midfield with Tana Umaga, whom comparisons with were immediately made, followed by selection for the All Blacks for his first test at home in Wellington against England.
As is often the case with X-factor players, Nonu suffered his first setback in 2004, unable to reproduce the same form for the Hurricanes, he was culled from the All Blacks and played for the New Zealand Sevens team instead. But some had work during the NPC earned him a test recall at the end of the year. In 2005 he was back to his best scoring seven tries each for the Hurricanes and Lions and often featuring on the left wing to accommodate both Umaga and Conrad Smith in the midfield. This earned him another European All Blacks tour. In 2006 Nonu was ruled out of the All Blacks during the year, but once more made the Spring trip to Europe.
In May 2007 he was selected for the Junior All Blacks, but earned a late recall as an injury recall into the All Blacks and played in the two home Tests against France.
He was in superb form for Wellington in the 2007 Air New Zealand Cup, notably as a right winger.
He played for the Blues in the 2012 Super Rugby competition and was selected for the All Blacks for 2012. Although used sparingly at the start of the international season he ended 2012 as New Zealand’s dominant second five-eighth.
Nonu played for the Highlanders in 2013 and the Blues again in 2014, before returning to the Hurricanes for the 2015 season.