Ma'a Nonu will leave the Hurricanes at the end of the Super Rugby season in the first big move of new coach Mark Hammett's tenure.
The All Blacks midfielder was told yesterday he will not be offered a 10th season at the franchise.
The Chiefs are understood to be the frontrunners to secure the 29-year-old's service for 2012 and new coach Dave Rennie is also believed to be chasing the signature of at least one other big name in Wellington rugby.
Hurricanes chief executive James Te Puni and coach Hammett were unavailable for comment last night, but the decision will be made official today.
Hammett has shed arguably the Hurricanes' biggest drawcard in terms of both bums on seats and sponsorship appeal at a time when there are dwindling crowds at Westpac Stadium.
And many fans will be asking why a player with 104 Super Rugby caps, a Wellington representative since 2002 and a Rongotai College old boy has effectively been shown the door in the prime of his career.
But it appears Nonu's ill-discipline on the field – he is one of Super Rugby's most penalised and yellow carded players – was a driver for the decision not to offer him another contract.
There's no doubt that Ma'a Nonu is a polarising player. At his best, he is one of the most devastating midfielders in world rugby. But he can also be a liability, with a penchant for giving away stupid penalties, or going missing at crucial times.
It seems that the appointment of Dave Rennie as Chiefs coach next year is pivotal to Nonu's departure, even moreso than Mark Hammett's arrival at the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes board must be questioning the wisdom of its coaching appointment, given reported personality clashes between Hammett and some of his charges, and some worful performances by the 'Canes in what has possibly been their worst-ever season.
There's one positive; if nothing else, Nonu's pending departure will add some spice to the Hurricanes' match this weekend; against the Chiefs. It will be interesting to see what part the Hamilton-bound Nonu plays this weekend.