After turning professional yesterday, All Black great John Kirwan agreed
that the Auckland Warriors represented "a big threat" to rugby union in New
Kirwan's signing was the biggest sports story so far this year in New
Zealand, but the 30-year-old veteran of 63 rugby Tests said he didn't care what
the public thought.
"I did this for myself and I have the support of my family - that's all that
matters to me," he told the Herald.
"I've got to live with myself. When you go home and close the door, it's only
yourself you have to live with. This is a challenge for me, no-one else."
The significance in New Zealand of Kirwan's defection to the fledgling
Warriors cannot be underestimated. The winger, who scored a New Zealand record
35 Test tries in a decade-long international career, is a national hero.
Relations between the codes are often less than cordial across the Tasman.
His move is expected to strain the situation further.
Asked if he thought the Warriors could threaten the popularity of rugby union
in New Zealand, Kirwan replied: "Yeah, I think so. It's a big threat.
"I haven't really thought about it that much, though."
Warriors chief executive Ian Robson said Kirwan had signed for one year, with
a mutual option on 1996. Negotiations would be held at the end of this season.
Kirwan's Test rugby career finished amid controversy last year when he was
left out of a Bledisloe Cup match against Australia and was publicly critical of
coach Laurie Mains.
He turned down an offer of a one-year contract last year, saying he wanted a
three-season term. He changed his mind because the decision had been "eating" at
him during the summer.
"In the end I just thought: 'You're going to regret this in 10 years if you
don't go now. It's now or never'," he said.
"There were just too many 'what ifs' and 'if onlys'. I knew that if I didn't
do it, I would regret it for the rest of my life.
"And you've got to be realistic. I'm getting on and this deal is the best
Warriors coach John Monie, who is building a house in Auckland, reopened
negotiations with Kirwan while buying lights from him last month.
Kirwan said he had been thinking about playing again, and according to
Robson: "John could see, just from his body language, that he wanted to play."
The contract Kirwan rejected last year was reportedly worth $130,000 a
season. Robson would not comment on the terms of the new deal.
The Warriors kick off their inaugural premiership season against the Brisbane
Broncos in Auckland on Friday night.
Kirwan said he was not yet fit enough to play first grade, but he would train
until he was, "however long that takes".
Robson said: "It will be three to five weeks away. He has to settle in and
learn the ropes first. We won't be rushing him."
Captain Dean Bell said he believed Kirwan could play in the centres but
Kirwan wants to start on the wing.
He said he had not even considered the question of playing international
"I intend to give this 120 per cent and then we will see at the end of this
how it has gone," he said. "Hopefully, I'll be sitting here in two years and
will be signing on for more.
"It is a big risk, but I am really satisfied I am doing the right thing.
"The biggest thing is loyalty to yourself and this is now or never. I would
have always thought 'if only'. Maybe I retired a bit early. But I was never just
a rugby man."
Kirwan will be returning to a game he played until 15. His grandfather Jack
Kirwan switched to league in the 1920s and played five Tests for the Kiwis.
In his latest book, Kirwan says: "The league clubs used to think All Blacks
were out of their reach - you could look but you had better not touch.
"Now they're different - they're like kids in a candy store."
The spectacular signing is not subject to the salary cap because Kirwan is a
rugby union player. Australian Rugby League chief executive John Quayle said his
conversion was a big boost to league.
But Manly's dual international fullback, Matthew Ridge, said he had advised
Kirwan against putting his reputation on the line by switching to league because
he wanted to see him go out a winner.
THOSE WHO HAVE GONE ACROSS THIS YEAR
* MATT GUBERINA from Warringah to Manly
* DARREN JUNEE from Randwick to Sydney City Roosters.
* PETER JORGENSEN from Randwick to Sydney City Roosters.
* MARK REBER from Manly to North Sydney.
* JOHN TIMU from Otago to Sydney Bulldogs.
* ANTHONY HERBERT from Brisbane GPS to Sth Qld Crushers.
* SACHA LAWS from Brisbane Souths to Sth Qld Crushers.
* GARRICK MORGAN from Brisbane Souths to Sth Qld Crushers.
* NATHAN TURNER from Sunnybank to Sth Qld Crushers.
* ADRIAN ROWAN from Brisbane Souths to Sth Qld Crushers.
* ANDREW WILLETT from Northern Suburbs to South Sydney.
* FERETI FA'ASUA from Western Samoa to Sydney City Roosters.
* LOLANI KOKO from Western Samoa to Sydney City Roosters.
* SCOTT QUINNELL from Wales to Wigan.
PAGE 60: Sailor shock.