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Etene Nanai-Seturo's journey from NRL prospect to Chiefs' weapon

By Adam Julian
Xavier Roe (l) and Quinn Tupaea (r) of the Chiefs celebrate with Etene Nanai-Seturo (c) of the Chiefs after he scored try during the round one Super Rugby Pacific match between Chiefs and Crusaders at FMG Stadium Waikato, on February 23, 2024, in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Etene Nanai-Seturo is a staple of the Chiefs backline. The left winger has played 48 matches (27 wins) and scored 17 tries.

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Nanai-Seturo partners All Blacks Shaun Stevenson and Emoni Nawara in Super Rugby Pacific’s most potent back three. In 2023 the trio scored 25 tries between them. In 2024 they have crossed the stripe five times in five matches.

Nanai-Seturo is supremely gifted on the counter-attack with a dizzying sidestep that rivals his cousin, Samoan international Tim Nanai-Williams. He’s added a prodigious left boot to his arsenal.

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“We know each other’s strengths. Shooter is the older, wiser one, whereas Emoni and I are looser,” Nanai-Seturo told RugbyPass.

“Shooter is a leader who gives us a lot of confidence, so does Damian McKenzie, to back ourselves. If we make the wrong decision, as long as we are decisive, we can’t complain.”

The Chiefs have won 19 of their past 22 matches with Nanai-Seturo a more confident and assertive kicker; something that wasn’t a feature of his game.

“When you get to the big stage you must work on your all-around game. David Hill has developed my kicking boot and given me confidence. When I shank my kicks, he gives me good feedback to stay square and finish where I want the ball to go,” Nanai-Seturo said.

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“There’s still a lot of work to do, but having a big left foot clears pressure on the left edge. When I kick depends, on what’s going on around me. If 10 and 15 are holding the edge I want to kick long down the middle. If we are under pressure I might want to kick out. It’s about reading the situation at the time.”

David Hill was an All Blacks first-five who scored 1401 points in 177 first-class games. Could Nanai-Seturo replicate his kicking mentor and earn national selection?

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
2
Draws
0
Wins
3
Average Points scored
25
29
First try wins
40%
Home team wins
60%

“I don’t want to put pressure on myself. Credit to Caleb Clarke, Mark Telea, and Sevu Reece. I really admire the way they play,” Nanai-Seturo said.

In 2023 Nanai-Seturo won the Duane Monkley medal as the best player in the NPC for Counties Manukau. He scored six tries in eight appearances as the Steelers improved the number of wins, tries, and points scored from the previous season.

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He’s played 13 tournaments for the All Blacks Sevens winning a Commonwealth Games gold and Olympics silver medal.

An age-grade star, Nanai-Seturo won two 1A Premierships at St Kentigern College in Auckland and represented the undefeated New Zealand Secondary Schools in 2017.

One of six siblings, Nanai-Seturo was born and raised in Otara, South Auckland. His parents are “still in the hood.”

“My Dad’s from a pretty big sports family. He’s got 17 siblings, no one actually believes it until they see them. They’re all in Brisbane,” Nanai-Seturo laughed.

“Dad wanted to do something different so he came to New Zealand. I’m grateful for that because I love this place.”

Nanai-Seturo was educated at a Seventh-Day Adventist school and then at Sir Edmund Hillary College. In Year 10 Nanai-Seturo and some friends were offered a scholarship to St Kent’s.

“When they gave us a scholarship we were like we’ll just do rugby,” Nanai-Seturo laughed.

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“We found it tough, and we spoke about leaving. There was more to it. When rugby training came and we settled I grew to love that bloody school,” Nanai-Seturo said.

“Tai Lavea played a huge role in my decision to stay in the rugby pathway. I’m grateful to Tai and his family. He did a lot for me and all the Poly boys on and off the field.”

Lavea won five 1A titles and the 2012 National Top Four title at St Kent’s. Dalton Papilli, Tamati Williams, Finlay Christie, Seta Tamanivalu, and Suli Vunivalu are some of the internationals who passed through.

Nanai-Seturo signed a five-year contract with the Warriors as a 15-year-old but wriggled his way out of the NRL to pursue rugby. In 2019 he was named Chiefs Rookie of the Year and his ascent has only been upward.

Last Saturday the Chiefs consolidated their position in the top four of Super Rugby Pacific with a fifth-round 28-21 victory over the Highlanders. The Chiefs were ahead 28-0 after half an hour.

“We started well but at the back end of the first half we made some errors that put us under pressure,” Nanai-Seturo said.

“In the second half, we didn’t match their energy. Our skills let us down, our discipline let us down. We were fortunate to come away with the dub. It was an ugly win.”

At their best the Chiefs are sumptuous. They smashed Australia’s best the Brumbies 46-12 in the second round.

In the opening round, the Chiefs beat the Crusaders scoring 27 of their 33 points in the first half.

Presently the Crusaders are an unprecedented 0-5. Last Saturday the Crusaders failed to score a try in a match for the first time since 2015 (145 matches).

The embattled Crusaders host the Chiefs in Christchurch on Friday. The Chiefs have won three of the past four matches. Nanai-Seturo isn’t taking anything for granted.

“It’s weird seeing them in the position they’re in now. It doesn’t change anything for us. We’ve got a job to do.”

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Comments

1 Comment
J
Jon 116 days ago

I think Etene has had some good tuition, likely while at the Warriors to be a professional that helped his rugby jump, but he was certainly thrown in the deep end way too early. Should have arguably 20 less SR caps, and therefor a way better record that he does at his age, but his development would have been fast tracked by the need to satiate his signing away from league.

Again, credit to him and others that he has done it so well. Easy to fall over under that pressure in the big leagues like that but he kept at it when I myself wasn’t sure he was good enough.

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