ITM Cup

Second wind

Second wind

STEVE KEFU began his international rugby career in New Zealand and it only seemed right that he ended it here too.

At least, that was the six-test Wallaby and Queensland Red midfielder’s initial plan.

Now the 31-year-old, who first toured the South Island with his Brisbane State High School team as a 16-year-old, admits he’s hedging his bets a bit after a successful start with Bay of Plenty in the ITM Cup competition.

The Steamers stint was just supposed to be a way of readjusting to life back Down Under after nearly six years in Europe but he’s loving it so much, his retirement plans are wavering.

“I always wanted to get back into rugby in this part of the world and have one last challenge, to see how my body held up,” Kefu said.

“The game’s always changing and New Zealand is usually the first place the innovations happen. The plan was to play here, then head back to Brisbane and maybe look at getting into coaching. I had a couple of calls last week from my old club, keen to have me on board, but I told them I’d see how I went this year. Who knows – another season? I’d love to!”

Kefu’s brother is 60-cap Wallabies No 8 Toutai Kefu, who was a 1999 Rugby World Cup winner. In all, there are five Kefu brothers, four of whom are rugby players – younger sibling Mafileo is playing in France for Toulon and their father played six times for Tonga and was part of the team which achieved an historic win over Australia in 1973.

Steve’s six tests came in 2001-2003, amid eight years with the Queensland Reds in the Super 12.

In all, he’s riddled with experience in Super Rugby, French Top 14, English Premiership and Heineken Cup, having just finished a two-year stint with Wasps in England after three seasons with French club Castres.

It’s no wonder he’s not daunted by the ITM Cup’s hectic schedule this year.

“We were playing 32 games in a year with Wasps and the trainings were pretty high-intensity and when I finished, I played another three club games back in Brisbane, so I arrived here with plenty of match fitness,” Kefu said.

Bay of Plenty swooped on him near the end of the English season, keen to recruit some class after their 2010 midfield was severely pruned – Grant McQuoid retired and Cory Aporo (North Harbour) and Brett Mather (Japan) both left the province.

“We were looking for a really experienced guy to have a working holiday here for 10 weeks and he fitted the bill,” Steamers coach Sean Horan said. “He’s got a really experienced head on his shoulders, he’s in pretty good nick, he’s a good communicator and a good guy to have around. That’s the reason why we brought him here, because he gives us that balance in what we believe is a good backline.”

Bay of Plenty also lost key first five Mike Delany to Japan after Super Rugby and Kefu’s presence has been instrumental in helping Dan Waenga and Chris Noakes adjust to the demands of starting at ITM Cup level.

He’s also been dazzled by the talent in the competition, not least of all the players around him.

“Coming over here and seeing the skill level of some of the players like Phil Burleigh, Dan Waenga and Toby Arnold – it’s just phenomenal that someone hasn’t snapped them up,” Kefu said. “Playing beside them and seeing their skill level and the way they understand the game has really given me a second wind to try and keep at the same level as them. I’ve still got a lot to offer on the field. I’ve played so many games that I can hopefully help them come out of their shells.”

And while he’s doing that, Kefu is having a ball – which has got him thinking a final season of Super Rugby may not be out of the question, on either side of the Tasman.

“What makes it so much more enjoyable here is how professional and yet laidback it is. Young guys are able to speak their mind and the coaches take everything on board – we’re getting great guidance and the coaches are part of the team.”

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