Former All Black Jerome Kaino farewells Eden Park

It’s understandable, when you consider the year in which his Blues career started, that a drought-breaking title is the only itch Jerome Kaino wishes he wasn't leaving unscratched.

A veteran of 81 tests for the All Blacks, Kaino will play his final match at Eden Park when the Auckland-based Super Rugby side host the Reds on Friday night.

The 35-year-old flanker, player of the tournament during the All Blacks' run to the 2011 World Cup crown, will also notch his 137th Blues appearance.

Assuming he gets on the field in one of the team's final two games of the season, both away from home, Kaino will surpass Tony Woodcock as their second-most capped player behind only Keven Mealamu (164).

Kaino debuted for the Blues in 2004, the year after they won their third and last title. Apart from a stint in Japan during 2012 and 2013, he has been there every year since as the team has been unable to once again hoist the Super Rugby silverware.

So as he prepared for his last game at the spiritual home of New Zealand rugby, and beyond that his departure to Europe to take up a contract with French club Toulouse, Kaino said the highlights of his Blues career were also a reminder of his one piece of unfinished business.

"Last year watching the boys beat the [British and Irish] Lions, that was definitely up there. My debut, my 100th, they'd be up there as well.

"I really wish that a championship in a Blues jersey was in there with those memories but it's not to be and every time I've been able to run out in the Blues jersey has been special for me."

The Blues best finish during Kaino's career is fourth in both 2007 and 2011, while their decline since the latter means their best performance of the last six years was a ninth-place finish last season.

The struggles have continued this year, a record of three wins from 13 games putting the franchise second-last overall and firmly at the bottom of a strong New Zealand conference.

But despite the team's well-documented lack of success in recent times, Kaino assured long-suffering fans there was plenty of reason for optimism.

"I look at the future of this club and it looks really bright," the 2011 New Zealand player of the year said.

"There's some good structures in place for the younger guys and the next generation to take the club to where it should be and I'm quite confident that the next championship is not too far away.

"It has been a little bit frustrating in terms of a lot of the injuries we've had [this year] and also not nailing the games we definitely could have won. But I've never rocked up on a Monday and been discouraged about where we can get to as a club.

"I've always loved rocking up here and enjoying the company of the boys and making sure we, not tick boxes, but make sure we keep improving as a club and as a team."

They are comments that stand in stark contrast to the squad Kaino joined as 20-year-old who had been born in American Samoa and raised in the South Auckland suburb of Papakura.

The Blues group of the mid-2000s featured numerous All Blacks and several considered among this rugby-mad nation's best.

Kaino said "freaks" like Fijian flyer Rupeni Caucaunibuca and former All Blacks backline stars Joe Rokocoko and Carlos Spencer are some of the best he has played alongside for the Blues, while brothers Rieko and Akira Ioane stand out within the current squad.

More than a few years on, Kaino said the quality of the Blues environment he entered in 2004 still amazes him.

"You look at the players that, when I came in, were in the Blues set up, I just keep pinching myself that I was around those players. To be in their company was quite surreal.

"To be here [now] and to be able to call it my job and do what I love for this long, I've been quite lucky."

It's not all down to luck, though.

Kaino believed his stint in Japan, coming after an immense contribution to the All Blacks drought-breaking World Cup success in 2011, was a crucial refresher for body and mind.

He admitted a few significant injuries along the way, putting him on the sidelines for extended periods, had also allowed him longevity.

And while another chapter in that longevity closes on Friday evening, Kaino said there's a chance it may not be the last time he sets foot on his beloved Eden Park.

"Yea definitely, I wouldn't rule out coaching but she's a bit tough just trying to coach my son's under-six team at the moment, it's like herding stray cats.

"But yea, never say never. I'd love to be involved in the game somehow because it's given me so much and so many opportunities.

"If I can give back in that way I'd love to."