Former AFL defender signs with Mitre 10 Cup side

Super Rugby
AAP
by AAP

Groundbreaking AFL defender Kurt Heatherley has gravitated to his first sporting love by signing a contract with New Zealand provincial rugby union champions Auckland.

The first born and bred Kiwi to play in the AFL was delisted last year following five seasons at Hawthorn and immediately turned his thoughts to the 15-man code.

He didn't do enough to earn a Super Rugby contract following a two-week trial with the Melbourne Rebels last December but attracted interest from the coach of NPC domestic champions Auckland.

Alama Ieremia said he liked the 1.93m height, aerial skills and kicking game that Heatherley will bring to an outside back role.

If he plays in Friday's first round match against North Harbour at Eden Park, Heatherley will become the first former AFL player to contest a first class rugby match in New Zealand.

Kurt Heatherley at Rebels training. Photo: Melbourne RebelsThe 24-year-old former Hawks defender was thankful to be home, the age group rugby and basketball star having been scouted by the Hawks and lured to Melbourne to try out a foreign sport in his mid-teens.

"It's just awesome to be back home, I think my time has passed (in AFL)," Heatherley told TVNZ.

"I've always had a desire to play at the highest level here in New Zealand. I thought I'd come here and put my best foot forward and see what happens."

Heatherley said the code switch took some adjustment.

Rugby union players are considerably bigger than those in the AFL but he appreciated no longer having to deal with collisions coming from anywhere in a 360 degree range.

Heatherley said he enjoyed being part of Hawthorn's twin premierships when on their rookie list in 2014-15.

Hopes were high when he made his debut at the MCG the following year but he only tallied five appearances and didn't play at all last season.