Rugby: Waisake Naholo confirmed for New Zealand return, signs to play NPC with Canterbury

  • 21/07/2021

Former All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo has returned to New Zealand rugby, signing with Canterbury for the 2021 National Provincial Championship.

A veteran of 27 tests with the All Blacks, Naholo departed New Zealand after the 2019 season to join London Irish in the English Premiership.

But Naholo's time in the UK hardly went to plan, playing only four times on London Irish's return to England's top tier.

As a result, the 2015 Rugby World Cup winner was released along with eight of his teammates in June, freeing him to return to New Zealand.

But rather than return to Taranaki, who he made 35 appearances for in nine seasons, the 30-year-old has signed for Canterbury - who finished fifth in last season's Premiership division.

"Everyone knows what sort of player Waisake is," says co-coach Reuben Thorne.

"He's played 27 times for the All Blacks and has a wealth of experience at Super and NPC level, so we're really excited to have him in our squad this year."

Naholo is one of nine new players in the squad, which was announced on Wednesday, including Irish prop Conan O'Donnell, NZ U-20s star Zac Gallagher, and Manu Samoa standout Henry Stowers.

The squad also includes six current All Blacks: George Bridge, Braydon Ennor, Joe Moody, Richie Mo’unga, Codie Taylor, and Sam Whitelock, as well as Fijian international Manasa Mataele.

"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," says co-coach Mark Brown. 

"27 of the current 32-man squad selected have all played club rugby in Canterbury and have been part of the Canterbury and Crusaders Academy or age-group representative teams."

Whilst named in the squad, Mitchell Dunshea and Tom Christie aren't expected to feature during the season due to injury.

Canterbury kick off their NPC campaign against rivals Auckland at Eden Park on August 8.

Canterbury: Liam Allen, Cameron Bailey, Finlay Brewis, Fergus Burke, Sam Darry, Jack Debreczeni, Luke Donaldson, Mitchell Drummond, Chay Fihaki, Zach Gallagher, Mitchell Gibson, Cullen Grace, Billy Harmon, Oli Jager, Jono Kitto, Shilo Klein, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Manasa Mataele, Brodie McAlister, Josh McKay, Dallas McLeod, Waisake Naholo, Fletcher Newell, Conan O’Donnell, Rameka Poihipi, Reed Prinsep (c), Isaiah Punivai, Ngane Punivai, Luke Romano, Sam Stewart, Henry Stowers, Tamaiti Williams.