The 38 year old has taken over as head coach of a local New Zealand rugby club – the Harbour Hawks Rugby Club in Dunedin. He had a brief stint with the club last year as the backs coach and is now trying out the role of head coach to see if it is something he might like to pursue further.
“Being a coach is a little bit different, especially club rugby,” Nicholas said. “There are a lot of things you don’t have to deal with as a professional player in Japan, like getting guys to turn up to training and having enough balls at practice – just the little stuff like that which you take for granted. It is real grassroots – a big change.”
But while there are some frustrations, there are also rewards as well.
“I really enjoy it. There is a really good group down there. There are a lot of Pacific Island boys down here that I can relate to and my brother (Ngana Nicholas) is playing there.”
Nicholas has property interests in the Cook Islands and in New Zealand, but is keen to see where coaching will take him.
“At this stage I’m just sort of getting a feel for it and seeing if it is something I want to do. I wanted to have some sort of focus when I came back. I didn’t want to get straight into a job or anything like that.
“The opportunity came up at Harbour and I thought why not – it will give me something to structure my week around and get a feel for coaching. The only thing about coaching as a career is it is quite a nomadic lifestyle and can be very hard to stay in one city. I’m not sure I actually want that for me and my family.” Nicholas’ wife, Sara Laban, grew up in Dunedin, and he spent eight years in the city while at university. Nicholas also played for the Highlanders during this time.
His wife returned to Dunedin during Nicholas’ final season in Japan and set up camp. The couple have two children – their son Marama who is 12 and a daughter Anya who is four.
“She started to put some roots down and I was happy to come back here,” said Nicholas. “She spent 13 years following me around the world while I was doing what I wanted to do, so it was the least I could do. But I have heaps of mates here and it is a nice little city. We’ve fallen back into things here and New Zealand affords a pretty good lifestyle.”
Nicholas played 24 games for the Highlanders between 2002 and 2004. The hard-running centre scored seven tries but left for Japan to play for Suntory Sungoliath in 2005. He had 11 years at the club before joining Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dyna Boars for his last two seasons.
Nicholas also played 38 international games for Japan between 2008 and 2012.
Otago coach Ben Herring is keen to tap into Nicholas’ knowledge and has called him in to help with some promising Otago players. However, he is happy to learn the ropes slowly for now and help Harbour win an elusive senior banner.
- Liam Ratana/ODT