NPC: Sam Whitelock to return to Canterbury training, ex-All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo to make first start

Aaron Smith may not be the only All Black returning to NPC, with Canterbury preparing to welcome back stand-in captain Sam Whitelock, while former test winger Waisake Naholo will make his first start for his new province.

Whitelock, 32, didn't travel with the All Blacks to Australia for this year's Rugby Championship, as he and his partner awaited the birth of their third child.

The All Blacks stand-in captain was supposed to depart for Australia last weekend, but a delayed flight to Australia saw the pin pulled, with NZ Rugby not confident Whitelock would have enough time to prepare to face South Africa on October 2.

As a result, Whitelock will return to Canterbury next week to train at the very least, hoping to preserve his fitness, before potentially joining the All Blacks on their northern hemisphere tour.

"Obviously, with Sam missing out on that window to get to Aussie, he's taken some time to freshen up first," Canterbury coach Mark Brown says.

"He'll definitely come in - in a training capacity - to get his body right, because there's every intention of him heading over to rejoin the team at some point.

"He will definitely get runs on the board on the training field. Whether we see him on the playing field, we'll see what happens there, we will just communicate with the All Blacks.

"He'll join us in training next week, but again, that's more reconditioning for him. He's had a couple of weeks on light duties, so that's the plan and we'll work towards something else."

Whitelock's arrival is welcomed by Canterbury captain Reed Prinsep, as the red-and-blacks aim for a 15th national title. 

"You can't beat 100-plus caps for the All Blacks coming in," says Prinsep. "He won't have to say much - he will just come in, the boys will just watch what he does, how he prepares, and that will be enough. 

"No doubt, he will chip in where he can. For him, first and foremost, it's getting a bit of game-time, so when he can get over to the All Blacks, he will be ready to go."

Meanwhile, former All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo will be a welcome sight in his side's starting XV, when Canterbury resume their NPC season against Waikato on Friday.

Naholo, 30, made his Canterbury debut off the bench when they beat Manawatu 25-22 in their last match, before New Zealand went into COVID-19 lockdown.

After a stint in England with London Irish, Naholo is back in New Zealand, and Brown is confident he can recapture the form that made him a fan favourite with both the Highlanders and Taranaki.

"He's a real professional, you probably heard that coming back from the UK. 

"Everything he's done here, he's done to the letter of the law. It's exciting to have him in the team. 

"[He] adds a dimension and contributes off the field as well. He'll do a job for us there no doubt."