Fans have given Aaron Smith a surprise farewell before his final home game for his beloved Highlanders on Friday night.
The Palmerston North native moved south for a crack at professional rugby 13 years ago and will leave as the most capped player in Highlanders history.
Few footy players get the full rockstar treatment when they decide to leave, but Aaron Smith, isn't just any footy player, as those at a Dunedin mall have proved.
"Pretty overwhelmed by it all," Smith admitted. "I saw my wife and kids and was like 'what the... ?'
"I saw the promo sheet and said we were all coming together. Total set-up and shock… little bit embarrassed, but so grateful as well.
Smith will run out of the tunnel at Forsyth Barr Stadium for the last time, as the Highlanders take on Queensland Reds.
"It's mean every time, mate, and it's special this time too," he added. "I don't know how to feel yet - I'm sad, happy, excited to go, but gutted to leave."
He'll have friends and family there, but one voice will be missing from the stands - dad and biggest supporter Wayne.
"A month and a half ago, cancer got him and it's very sad… he would've been here this week."
"He used to be hard as nails and then slowly, he became a big softie, I used to call him. 'There's sand in my eyes', he'd say."
Smith has played 183 games for the southerners and played a key role in their first Super Rugby title.
"When we won the title in 2015, the whole Octagon and the whole George Street was packed," he recalled. "That sticks with me forever."
The 114-test All Black revealed one his main reasons for staying with the franchise was to beat former teammate Ben Smith's record.
"It sounds bad, but I really wanted to beat Bender's record," he joked.
Smith's loyalty hasn't gone unnoticed with his fans. Richard Rickerby recently suffered a stroke and snuck out of hospital to be there to bid adieu to the famous halfback.
"I have to come here to say farewell," said Ben Smith. "It's going to be sad day for Dunedin, that’s for sure.
"He's such a great man and player. He's going to be missed by everyone."
Watch the full story above2023-05-24T07:16:15Z dg43tfdfdgfd