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Retail the perfect fit for Wyatt Crockett's life in Nelson

No stranger to sportswear, Crusader and Tasman Mako Wyatt Crockett is taking on the revamped Stirling Sports store on Trafalgar St.
No stranger to sportswear, Crusader and Tasman Mako Wyatt Crockett is taking on the revamped Stirling Sports store on Trafalgar St.

As his last Crusade enters its final weeks, the man they call Crockzilla can't wait to sink his teeth into his new life in Nelson. 

Along with wife Jenna, 71-test All Black Wyatt Crockett is taking over the Nelson Stirling Sports franchise as part of a return home to where his rugby career kicked off. 

The Trafalgar St shop space is set to re-open on July 25 following a revamp and strengthening work.

Having been part of successful Canterbury, Crusader and All Black teams since 2005, Crockett has been busy with staff interviews and meetings as he prepared to roll out his new team.

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Some prospective employees have recognised him, but for the most part it's been strictly business, he said.

For the 35-year-old, the transition from wearing to selling sports gear was a natural fit as he looked to his future outside of professional rugby.

"I've been involved in sports my whole life and, particularly in the last 13 years, I've had the pleasure of wearing a lot of sportswear, but it was an opportunity to come back to Nelson first and foremost and find a business that fits in with my lifestyle."

Having announced his retirement from international rugby in February, this season will be his last with the Crusaders.

While content with a career that has included a World Cup win and Super Rugby titles, Crockett said he would miss the camaraderie and roar of the crowd after 14 years of playing at the highest level.

His playing days still have some legs, having signed a two-year deal to play for the Tasman Mako in the Mitre 10 Cup, where he will join Crusaders teammates Tim Perry and Andrew Makalio as well as All Black Kane Hames in a formidable front row. 

Boasting around 20 squad members with either Super or All Black experience, Crockett was excited by the team's prospects in 2018.

A Mako team meeting during a Crusader bye week had yielded belief that they can break the shackles of being the Mitre 10 Cup's almost-men. 

"We're looking to do something really special – hopefully we can start the season well and then get into it."

Tasman Rugby Union chief executive Tony Lewis said the Crockzilla factor would offer large benefits to the region on and off the paddock.

"To have a person of that quality come into our team, that's going to offer our younger guys some leadership and professionalism they haven't seen before.

"We're going to have a person who is going to give back in spades because that's what Wyatt is like – he's a person that has a big future in Tasman rugby." 

Impressed by the rise of Nelson and Marlborough rugby from third division battlers to a combined NZ rugby powerhouse, Crockett said Tasman's outdoor lifestyle was conducive to producing skilful young athletes.

"I've been asked how there's so much talent coming out of the region.

"It's always been there, particularly at schoolboy level, but I think now there's this awesome pathway for them if they want to play professional rugby - it's inspiring to see guys go on to the next level and I think it just fuels the fire for those up-and-comers to give it a real good crack."

Born in Christchurch, Crockett spent his childhood in Golden Bay, where at one stage his parents ran the holiday park at Tukurua Beach. 

"It's crazy to think now, but at the time I was always wanting to go to Nelson or the big cities, even though I was living in this primo spot where I had the beach to myself and was catching snapper whenever I wanted."

After playing his junior rugby for Takaka, Crockett boarded at Nelson College from 1994-2000, spending two years in the school's 1st XV before attending Otago Boys' High School in 2001.

Where Crockzilla learned to roar - the 1999 Nelson College First XV.  All Black prop Wyatt Crockett is third from left in the front row, while Tasman Mako assistant coach Andrew Goodman is directly behind.
Where Crockzilla learned to roar - the 1999 Nelson College First XV. All Black prop Wyatt Crockett is third from left in the front row, while Tasman Mako assistant coach Andrew Goodman is directly behind.

Based in Christchurch while his rugby career - and family - evolved, Crockett said an eventual return to Nelson had always been on the cards.

The move home would allow more time with his two boys Sonny (8) and Emmett (6), after years of rugby-related travel around the world.

"When I said I was going away for another few weeks, one of my boys said 'Dad, why did you choose to be a rugby player? You're choosing a job where you go away from home for so long' and I thought 'yeah, time to retire' ... I was missing out on so much.

"I've always tried to do that as much as possible - the school drop offs and pick ups and try to get to as many practices as possible, although it's been difficult for the last couple of months with Jenna being up in Nelson by herself."

However, at least another four weeks of commuting still loomed as the Crusaders looked to secure their ninth Super Rugby championship.

In honour of his 200th game for the franchise - a Super Rugby record - and his contribution to the Canterbury rugby community, Christchurch's AMI Stadium was renamed "Wyatt Crockett Stadium" for Friday's southern derby against the Highlanders.

Crockett has fond memories of last year's fixture at the same venue. It was his voice coming through the pitch microphones imparting some senior advice to his team after a desperate 18 phases of attack during the dying minutes. 

Mitchell Hunt took heed, and the resulting drop goal gave the Crusaders a famous injury-time victory and a people's choice winning moment at this year's Halberg Awards.

"I was saying 'mate, will you just kick it over?' That was an awesome moment – one of those things I'll never forget, the goal from nowhere."

With both players Mako men in 2018, clutch-player Hunt may well be hearing similar orders from the ruck this season.

"I'd love for him to double it up."

Crockett is also looking forward to seeing more of his old Nelson College team mates. 

Most have ended their rugby careers and can now be found in the police, media, local trades or - like Crockett - the business community.

Some have gone through the local club ranks, enjoyed Super Rugby success or have played in Europe or Heartland Championship teams like West Coast and Buller.

Others, like Crockett's Mako assistant coach Andrew Goodman, will continue to have a close association as his playing career continues.

After a break from rugby in the first half of 2019, Crockett hoped to turn out at senior club level for the Nelson club he last played for as an 11-year-old in 1994. 

"I still have to see if the coach wants me, but I'll have a decent break at the start of next year – I've been playing every season since I was eight-years-old without any major injury breaks."

Crockett said he was not planning a professional career beyond his Tasman stint, but expressed an interest in grassroots involvement, be it coaching at high school or club level.

Thanks to an invite by good mate and SKY Sports presenter Scotty Stevenson, Crockett's analytical skills have been called upon during the All Blacks' recent test series against France. 

"I thought well, why not? It's a good way to stay involved in the game and sitting there with Sumo [Stevenson], it's always good fun and pretty light-hearted.

"Working with some of the ladies too, like Ruby Tui, brings a nice balance to the conversation and they know the game inside out – that's good to see and hopefully it's something that's going to continue to grow." 

Now relieved of test duties, Crockett said he was looking forward to being a spectator at Nelson's first All Black test on September 8.

While he had discussed his potential availability with coach Steve Hansen, Crockett believed there was sufficient depth in the prop department for now.

"They had mentioned if there was a string of injuries, would I be available? [But] they're very well-served at the moment – Joe Moody is world-class and you've got Karl [Tu'inukuafe] who came in and killed it – then there's Tim Perry and Kane Hames coming back from injury ... but you never know."