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Ex-All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo has picked up an MLR deal

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

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Former All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo has signed for Rugby United New York in the MLR after failing to pick up a team for the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific campaign. The soon-to-be 31-year-old returned to New Zealand last July after London Irish opted not to offer their 2019 star signing a contract extension and he went on to play eight times for Canterbury in the Mitre 10 Cup. 

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However, that run of games wasn’t enough for him to net a Super Rugby deal. He went training with the Crusaders and played in a pre-season game to no avail. He was then linked with the Highlanders, but that franchise instead brought in ex-England international Denny Solomona in recent weeks. 

That left Naholo, who was part of the 2015 All Blacks squad that won the World Cup, at a loose end that has now been filled by his recruitment by the New York franchise for the remainder of the 2022 Major League Rugby campaign. 

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The cub tweeted: “Waisake Naholo is coming to New York for the rest of the ’22 season. With 62 caps for the @Highlanders and 27 for the @AllBlacks, the powerful winger becomes a New Yorker.”

The ambitious New York, who had ex-France midfielder Mathieu Bastareaud and ex-England full-back Ben Foden on their roster in recent years, are currently fourth in the Western Conference with six wins from nine matches. They have seven games remaining in their regular season before the playoffs.  

It was June 18 last year when London Irish announced that Naholo was one of nine players being released following the completion of their 2020/21 season. The injury-hit winger was unveiled as a massive signing coup in 2019 when the club had gained promotion back to the Gallagher Premiership but his stay was an on-field disappointment as he was limited to just four appearances – and two tries – in his two-season stay. 

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He made a debut in November 2019 and played his fourth match the following February but he didn’t appear in another competitive fixture in his 16 months following that at Irish due to his slow rehabilitation from knee surgery. Irish boss Declan Kidney had praised Naholo for how he had coped with his adversity, adding that he was excellent in becoming an off-field mentor to the club’s raft of young backfield players.

You will find in first-team games he has a 100 per cent record,” said Kidney to RugbyPass about Naholo. “Every time he played for us we won. He was scoring tries, he was fantastic. And when he was out injured for the period of time the influence he had on the younger fellas in bringing them through, that is why we went after a certain quality of person as a senior player. 

“You can go after senior players no problem but it’s the qualities that they bring off the pitch and it’s the standards that they drive and show these younger fellas what it takes to actually get there. I remember a couple of matches when he would be in and around the dressing room and in the development of Ollie (Hassell-Collins) and Ben (Loader) over the last year or two, he might not have been playing but he was going in having a quiet word with them after it, showing them how to deal with the ups and downs of what happens. 

“He has left his mark there with the rest of the players and I’m delighted to see him back out on the pitch (with Canterbury). He has pushed himself so hard to do that but his time with us unfortunately just didn’t pan out that way. But more than fondly (remembered) would be the way I would put it. I’m not going to tell you we have been phoning one another but the way we’d leave it is we’d get in touch with one another whenever we can to help one another out.”

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