The Heartland competition among New Zealand's more rural provinces has been a backwater of the game – it was abandoned in 2020 due to Covid – but its stature was given a boost last week.
All Blacks captain Sam Cane turned out for King Country in a bid to get game time before heading overseas to join the All Blacks in Washington when his Bay of Plenty side had a bye in the NPC.
Nonu, 39, has 103 Tests to his name. He has played 126 games for the Hurricanes, 61 for Wellington and 39 for the Blues. His overseas connections have seen him playing for the Black Rams in Japan, Toulon on 93 occasions in France, and the San Diego Legion.
The second five-eighths' first-class debut was in 2002 for Wellington, so an appearance for East Coast would make 20 years at that level. Also joining him will be 67-cap Hurricane Faifili Levave, who has been playing in Japan since 2014.
According to his former Hurricanes and All Blacks teammate Hosea Gear, who is coaching East Coast this year, Nonu offered to play for the side if Gear would also turn out. Gear agreed and will also make his playing debut for the East Coast.
Gear said he had asked Nonu if he would present the jerseys to the players ahead of the game, and the notion of playing for the side grew from there.
Gear told Stuff.co.nz that the paperwork was completed with New Zealand Rugby, and Nonu would join the side on Friday as East Coast look to break a 54-game losing streak that started in October 2013.