Highlanders forward Marino Mikaele-Tu'u has become the latest top-flight NZ rugby player to signal his move to Japan.

The loose forward has signed on with Mitsubishi DynaBoars next year. He'll head to Japan, after playing out the National Provincial Championship season with Hawke's Bay.

Mikaele-Tu'u, 25, leaves in the prime of his career, after a breakthrough 2022 Super Rugby Pacific campaign with the Highlanders that earned a call-up to the All Blacks XV for their tour to the UK and Ireland.

Injury has stifled that progress this year, with a rib issue sustained in the first match of the season limiting his impact for the struggling southerners.

He'll follow in the footsteps of All Blacks Richie Mo'unga, Brodie Retallick, and Highlanders teammates Aaron Smith and Shannon Frizell, who are all Japan-bound after the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

"Incredibly grateful to have spent the past six years with the Highlanders," said Mikaele-Tu'u. "Never thought I’d call Dunedin home coming down as a 20-year-old, and now me and my little family are leaving with lifelong friends.

"Thank you to the Highlanders family, fans and supporters that have been involved in my journey, very very blessed."

Based in Sagamihara, Mitsubishi DynaBoars are coached by former Highlanders assistant coach Glen Delaney. Former Highlanders teammate Jackson Hemopo is also part of the squad, along with ex-Crusaders and Hurricanes forward Hedin Bedwell-Curtis and 59-test Wallabies back Matt To'omua.

Since his 2018 debut, Mikaele-Tu'u has played 47 matches for the Highlanders, who will be out to secure this season's eighth and final playoff spot with a win against the Blues at Auckland.

Join Newshub at 7pm Friday for live updates of the Highlanders v Blues Super Rugby Pacific clash

2023-06-01T19:49:24Z dg43tfdfdgfd