Waisake Naholo's NZ return confirmed as Canterbury name NPC squad
Rumours had swirled in recent weeks that Naholo would suit up for Canterbury in this year’s provincial competition after returning to New Zealand upon the completion of his two-year injury-riddled spell with Premiership club London Irish.
Those whispers were confirmed on Wednesday when Canterbury announced their squad for the upcoming domestic season, with Naholo included as one of 10 new caps on the roster.
The inclusion of Naholo, who played 26 tests for the All Blacks between 2015 and 2018, comes after he spent nine seasons plying his trade for Taranaki at provincial level between 2011 and 2019.
The 30-year-old also has plenty of Super Rugby experience as he became a cult hero during his five-year stay with the Highlanders, who he helped lead to their maiden title in 2015, while he also played twice for the Blues in 2013.
A 2015 World Cup winner, Naholo – who had been playing club rugby in Dunedin prior to his inclusion in Canterbury’s NPC squad – headlines a number of newbies who will don the red-and-black hoops this season.
Accompanying Naholo as one of the new caps is former Chiefs and Melbourne Rebels playmaker Jack Debreczeni, who returns to Kiwi shores after spending the last two season in Japan with the Hino Red Dolphins in the Top League.
The 28-year-old has previous experience in New Zealand provincial rugby, having played for Northland in 2018 and 2019, and is likely to compete with Crusaders starlet Fergus Burke for the No 10 jersey in the absence of All Blacks pivot Richie Mo’unga.
Elsewhere, New Zealand U20 lock Zach Gallagher has been included for his debut campaign in the NPC, while journeyman Irish prop Conan O’Donnell, formerly of the Sunwolves and Highlanders, has moved south from Counties Manukau.
The 2021 Canterbury squad also features six All Blacks – Mo’unga, Sam Whitelock, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody, George Bridge and Braydon Ennor – as well as two other internationals, Fijian wing Manasa Mataele and Samoan loose forward Henry Stowers.
Most of the All Blacks are likely to be unavailable for most, if not all, of the NPC season, although Ennor and Moody are likely to be released to feature for Canterbury as they continue to recover from their respective injuries.
Similarly, injured Crusaders duo Mitchel Dunshea and Tom Christie have both been named in the squad, but neither are expected to play.
Nevertheless, head coach Mark Brown remains optimistic about his side’s chances as they eye up their 15th national title after having gone trophy-less since 2017.
“We’re really proud of the group of guys we’ve been able to select for this Canterbury squad, but what also makes it really pleasing is the majority of our guys have come through the Canterbury club system and/or our academy,” he said via a statement.
The 2021 NPC season will kick-off on August 6, with Canterbury scheduled to get their campaign underway against arch-rivals Auckland at Eden Park on August 8.
2021 Canterbury NPC squad:
* – denotes new cap
** – denotes All Black/international
*** – denotes injured
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