Former All Black halfback Alby Mathewson will play his ITM Cup rugby for the Hawke's Bay Magpies next year.
The Hastings-born Mathewson, who played four games for the ABs from 2008-10, was expected to finalise his Magpies contract last night.
It is understood the opportunity to be near his relations in Hawke's Bay when not playing Super Rugby for the Perth-based Western Force was a key factor in his decision to play for the Magpies.
Mathewson, 26, has played for Auckland in the ITM Cup during the past two seasons. After three seasons with the Blues and three with the Hurricanes, the 2010 Super Rugby player-of-the-year decided in August to link up with the Force for the 2013 season.
"This is an excellent opportunity for me and one I'm really looking forward to. I've really enjoyed my time at the Blues but this is a chance for me to challenge myself in a new environment, play a different style of rugby and it's a prospect that really excites me," Mathewson said at the time of his Force signing.
The Magpies, like the Force, will be looking for plenty of spark from Mathewson in their quest to return to the premiership after being relegated to the championship for the 2013 Cup season. Mathewson joins All Blacks prop Ben Franks as the Magpies' major signings to date for next year.
While the Magpies aren't expecting to get much game time out of Franks because of his All Blacks commitments, Mathewson should be a Cup regular.
A Hastings Boys' High School product, Mathewson is a former New Zealand under-19 representative. He did his tertiary education at Victoria University in the capital.
Current Magpies Hika Elliot and Tivaini Fomai were Hastings Boys' High School 1st XV teammates of Mathewson's.
Mathewson scored the matchwinning try when Auckland beat the Magpies 36-29 in this year's ITM Cup opener at Napier's McLean Park. That was the first of the Magpies' seven losses in the Cup this season.
Tamatea club stalwart Dennis Rosser hopes Mathewson links up with his club because of his family's connections to it. Mathewson's grandfather, the late Bill Mathewson, was a life member of the Tamatea club and his uncle, former New Zealand Colts representative Alex Mathewson, played for Tamatea.
"Obviously because of his Super Rugby commitments we may not get too many club games out of him but if he has to play a club game or two it would be great if it was with us. It would be a bit like Israel Dagg playing for Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports ... he does so because of his family's involvement with the club," Rosser said.
Rosser has been critical in recent years of the Hawke's Bay union for failing to allocate imported Magpies players to his club. Former Canterbury and Tasman loosie George Naoupu was the last Magpies import to play for Tamatea in 2007.
Naoupu had a short stint with the club before transferring to Clive. Franks has been allocated to the MAC club.