Dan Carter's surprise return to New Zealand rugby after five years was welcomed today, though Waikato Chiefs coach Warren Gatland joked that at 38 the three times World Player of the Year was "getting a bit old".

Carter has joined the Auckland Blues for New Zealand's domestic Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, linking up with Beauden Barrett and giving coach Leon MacDonald some valuable experience in the young squad.

"He's getting a bit old now, 38 or something," former Wales coach Gatland joked in a conference call with reporters.

"(But) he has been a legend of New Zealand rugby and I don't see any negatives towards it.

"For him to be able to come back to New Zealand and lace his boots up, I just think it's good for the youngsters."

Carter, who had neck surgery last year and has not played since February, said he was unlikely to be match fit for several weeks.

The Blues open their campaign against the Wellington Hurricanes on 14 June.

"I've got to be realistic," Carter said.

"I've played six games in the last 18 months, and had three months of no rugby training, no contact ... it's going to be a process getting up to speed."

MacDonald said Carter had been signed as a utility player and could even appear at fullback but it would be a while before fans see him on the field.

"We'll take our time and make sure we progress Dan safely," McDonald said.

"He's got a lot of work to get through before he's considered for selection."

The Blues have struggled since winning their third Super Rugby title in 2003 and been searching for an out-half who could drive the team around the field and control the game since Carlos Spencer left in 2005.