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Rowe has signed a one-year deal with the Sunwolves and will leave for Japan in the new year.
The 27-year-old said he was surprised to be approached by the Sunwolves after the end of the Mitre 10 Cup and did not take long to make a decision.
''It's a no-brainer, really. It was always a dream of mine to play sport as your job and that is what has happened now,'' Rowe said.
No Super Rugby side in New Zealand had shown any interest in Rowe and he was looking forward to getting over to Japan and starting training with the team.
Rowe, who is a qualified teacher, had never been to Japan before and was excited to get involved in Super Rugby.
With no June international window this year, Super Rugby will conclude in early July, so Rowe will be back in Dunedin to play for Otago in the Mitre 10 Cup.
His decision to head to Japan is a blow to the Zingari-Richmond club, which Rowe captained last season.
The big lock will not be lost for company, surrounded by players with Otago and Highlanders connections.
The Sunwolves have been recruiting heavily. The side is coached by former Highlanders coach Tony Brown, who will be assisted by his brother, former Otago coach Cory Brown.
Also in the Sunwolves next year are former Highlanders Dan Pryor, Jason Emery, Phil Burleigh, Craig Millar and Hayden Parker. Both Millar and Parker played for Otago.
Former All Black Rene Ranger has joined the side, as has Michael Little, who used to play for North Harbour.
The Highlanders will play the Sunwolves in the first ever meeting of the sides in April in Tokyo.