It's got nothing to do with the Blues
All Blacks centre Ma'a Nonu plans to switch to the Highlanders for the 2013 Super Rugby season, ending his one-year stint with the Blues.
Nonu cited family reasons for the move, quashing speculation the 30-year-old would wind down his career with a lucrative move to Japan in the wake of last year's Rugby World Cup victory.
"It's got nothing to do with the Blues, it is a decision I have made for myself and my family," the 71-Test veteran told reporters, adding that details of the contract had to be finalised before he signed.
Blues coach John Kirwan said he was disappointed with Nonu's decision, believing he had a handshake deal with the powerhouse midfielder to remain in Auckland.
"I am obviously disappointed," Kirwan said. "The lateness in the decision has really put us in a difficult situation, but we are going to have a young, exciting young team and we'll move on."
Nonu is the second high-profile Blues player to move to the Highlanders during the off-season, with prop Tony Woodcock also defecting after a disappointing season in which the Auckland side finished 12th on the Super Rugby ladder.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said that a deal with Nonu would be a major boost for the southern franchise, and the region as a whole, ahead of the full franchise squad being confirmed at the end of the month.
"Ma'a has been a standout performer for the All Blacks over his playing career and he would bring some great playing form to our squad next season. He has a lot of big match experience at international level and we know that we would benefit from that," Joseph said.
"Ma'a has indicated he sees many advantages for him and his family in being part of the Highlanders environment and we would welcome that. We're very proud of the support we give to the families of our players, and the support we get in return is a vital part of the strong family-focus we have within the Highlanders," he added.
Subject to contract negotiations being finalised, Nonu will join the Highlanders for pre-season training early in the New Year following his All Blacks commitments for the year-end tour of Europe.