All Blacks prospect Jona Nareki set for lengthy sideline stint
Otago have been dealt a hefty blow in the opening week of their 2021 NPC season after losing star wing Jona Nareki for the entire campaign due to injury.
The electric Highlanders speedster succumbed to a knee injury in Otago’s season-opening 26-19 win over fierce local rivals Southland in Dunedin on Saturday and was replaced after just 15 minutes.
Otago Rugby Football Union general manager Richard Kinley has since confirmed Nareki, who was considered unlucky to have missed out on a place in the All Blacks squad earlier this year, will be sidelined for the remainder of the year.
“He has had a scan and we are still waiting for the final medical diagnosis because it is still quite swollen,” Kinley said, as per the Otago Daily Times.
“But he will not be available for us for the rest of the season. He has injured his ACL and it is unknown whether he will need surgery yet or not.”
While Nareki’s recovery period remains to be seen, ACL injuries usually take between six-to-nine months to come right, meaning it’s likely the 23-year-old will miss a chunk of the Highlanders’ 2022 Super Rugby campaign.
Kinley said the news was disappointing for Nareki and Otago, but he backed the try-scoring machine to return to top form.
“It is disappointing for Jona. We’ve got some good depth which is fine. But when you lose a player of that calibre, and what he adds off the field as well, it’s hard,” Kinley said.
“I feel really sorry for him because he is such a dynamic player … and a great young man. He’ll bounce back from this.”
Nareki has since taken to social media to confirm his provincial campaign is over as he wished his teammates well for the rest of the season.
“Pretty guttered [sic] my Otago season is over, wishing the boys nothing but the best for the season,” Nareki wrote on Instagram.
“Be an interesting feeling watching form the stands and not being out there with ’em.”
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Nareki’s injury is set to provide other wings within the Otago squad with a chance to impress over the course of the NPC season.
Veteran utility back Matt Faddes, young Highlanders outside back Sam Gilbert, explosive speedster Freedom Vahaakolo, who impressed at centre over the weekend, and Tongan international Viliame Fine all loom as possible replacements in the No 11 jersey.
New Zealand U20 wing Michael Manson could also come into contention after being called into the Otago squad to replace injured midfielder Thomas Umaga-Jensen, who is also out for the provincial season with a shoulder injury.
Nareki and Umaga-Jensen are just two of many injury concerns for Otago, as former All Blacks hooker Liam Coltman (ligament damage), ex-Wallabies prop Jermaine Ainsley (high ankle sprain) and highly-touted youngster Saula Ma’u (torn meniscus) all unavailable.
Adding to Otago’s injury woes in the front row is the torn calf sustained by experienced prop Josh Hohneck, which is expected to sideline him for about a month, while one-test All Blacks playmaker Josh Ioane is being monitored after suffering a head knock against Southland.
Journeyman prop Sef Fa’agase, meanwhile, is stranded in the United States after failing to secure a place in managed isolation following a season with the New England Free Jacks in Major League Rugby.
With George Bower on international duty with the All Blacks, Otago have only a handful of propping options available to them.
Tevita Pole, another development player, has also been training with the squad and could be called upon by head coach Tom Donnelly ahead of this week’s Ranfurly Shield challenge against Hawke’s Bay in Napier.
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