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Waisake Naholo 'not as fast as before' but fizzing for NPC return

By Sam Smith

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Waisake Naholo could be the best signing of the 2021 NPC but at this stage, it’s hard to tell what the former All Black will offer a Canterbury side already well-stocked in the outside backs.

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Naholo left New Zealand’s shores following the 2019 season, having last work the black jersey on the All Blacks‘ end of year tour a year prior.

While the Fijian-born winger then spent two seasons with London Irish in the English Premiership, the 30-year-old clocked up just four appearances for the Exiles due to a combinations of untimely injuries and the global pandemic.

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When it comes to raw speed and agility, it’s hard to look past former England and Lions outside back Jason Robinson.
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When it comes to raw speed and agility, it’s hard to look past former England and Lions outside back Jason Robinson.

Now, after spending a season playing club rugby in Dunedin, Naholo will run out for Canterbury in the upcoming provincial season kicking off on August 6.

“He did have limited game time for Irish, party due to injury, but partly just due to Covid and some other circumstances that interrupted his rehab, it’s probably not as drastic as it might seem – the number of games he’s played,” Canterbury co-coach Mark Brown told Stuff earlier this week.

“It’s not often you get to welcome someone of that calibre of player into the squad, with his NPC and Super experience, and obviously the great contribution he made to the All Blacks. We’re very fortunate, and it’s exciting for the whole group.”

Naholo admitted he tried to link back up with Taranaki before ultimately signing with Canterbury, the side he played 35 matches for over nine seasons were full-up in the outside backs.

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Canterbury aren’t exactly short of talent in the wings either, however.

All Blacks George Bridge and Braydon Ennor are both likely to clock up some minutes in the red and black this season due to their injury-enforced lack of gametime this year. Fijian international Manasa Mataele is also a threatening ball-runner, while brothers Isaiah and Chay Punivai could also suit up in the outside backs. Factor in Glasgow-bound Josh McKay and youngster Cam Bailey, and Naholo may struggle for regular games.

Naholo was a prodigious talent in his formative years with the Highlanders but a broken leg suffered in 2015 hampered the big wing and he never quite reached the same heights, despite clocking up 27 appearances for the All Blacks. Now, two years since his departure, Naholo has admitted that he’s not quite as deadly as he once was.

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“To join this club as well is something else for me, I’m really excited. I didn’t think anyone was going to pick me up,” he said on the SENZ Afternoons radio show.

“Probably not as fast as before but if I’ve got space I’ll put the foot down a bit. If I’m not too fast then I’ll probably just have to look for contact.”

Still, if the 30-year-old possesses even a fraction of the firepower that made him a fan-favourite in the deep south, then perhaps a brilliant run with Canterbury isn’t off the cards – and maybe even a Super Rugby recall could be a possibility.

For now, however, Naholo only has eyes for the provincial season.

“At the moment, just the NPC. Hopefully I’ll get something with Super Rugby, if they’re happy then that’s a bonus for me.”

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Waisake Naholo 'not as fast as before' but fizzing for NPC return

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