Napolioni Nalaga – once the most devastating winger in European club rugby – is back playing the sport in Fiji, years after he left the islands to pursue a professional rugby career.
Nalaga has been cleared by his Paraguayan club – Olimpia Lions – to play for his original club, Nadroga Rugby. “Nalaga has been cleared by his overseas club,” Nadroga Club President Tiko Matawalu told the Fiji Sun. “We are now waiting for his clearance from the Fiji Rugby Union but his name is on the team list.”
It’s the most recent chapter in what has become something of a journeyman career for the massive Fjian wing. Standing 6’2 and tipping the scales at 17 stone, Nalaga was arguably the most feared strike runner in Europe for a space in time, and still holds the record for the most tries in the Champions Cup by a Fijian (25).
Nadroga are the club that first cultivated the Sigatoa born wing’s rare talents back in the mid-noughties. He represented the club at U21 level before he made the jump to the Fiji U21 team that went on to contest the 2006 Rugby World Championship in France.
He was soon scouted and was signed to Top 14 giants Clermont in 2007. He scored 105 tries in 165 games during his time at Clermont Auvergne and was a Heineken Cup Finalist in 2013. He failed to return to the club in 2011 and had his contract terminated, before linking up with the Western Force in Perth for a stint.
— Western Force (@westernforce) December 2, 2011
In 2011 he scored a try at the Rugby World Cup for the Flying Fijians, emulating his father’s exploits in the 1987 competition. Kavekini Nalaga scored a try for the Fijians against Argentina in Hamilton.
He returned to Clermont in 2012, where in total he spent eight years of his career. He signed for Lyon in 2015, before popping up at London Irish in 2017, where he managed just five appearances and one try.
His next port of call would be Lokomotiv Penza in Russia’s Premier League in 2019, although it’s not entirely clear how much rugby – if any – he played for the side.
Random news of the day.Napolioni Nalaga (ex ASM Clermont legend) has joined Russian club Lokomotiv Penza… pic.twitter.com/a6DneOlONx
— Lotfi Wada (@LotfiWada) August 3, 2019
He raised eye-brows yet again this year, when he signed for the even more obscure Olimpia Lions, Paraguay’s first professional rugby team. The Lions contest the new SLAR competition in South America, although the competition’s inaugural season was cut short by COVID-19.
SLAR consists of six teams, with five of those sides – from Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay and Brazil – competing in a regular season that, upon its conclusion, the top four sides will go into the playoffs. The fifth-placed side will enter the Challenge Trophy with Cafeteros Pro, a club from Medellín in Colombia who are not a full participant for the debut season.
Nalaga was the club’s major signing alongside Puma wing Manuel Montero and the club have now allowed the wing to play again in his native Fiji. Although he’s signed a two-season contract with the Lions, should Nalaga ultimately remain in his native Fiji, it will bring in an end of the most well-traveled of professional rugby careers.
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