Waikato sad to see Whetu Douglas leave for Benetton Treviso after Crusaders stint
Whetu Douglas leaves New Zealand with Waikato's blessing, but they didn't want their talismanic No 8 to leave.
Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson revealed Douglas was off to Italian club Benetton Treviso this week to honour a contract he'd signed before performing so well in his first six matches for Robertson's team, who top the New Zealand conference with a perfect record of seven wins.
Douglas was called up as injury cover for All Blacks captain Kieran Read, but exceeded everyone's expectations in the red and black jersey.
However, once news of his Treviso contract came to light, Douglas was already bound for Italy with his wife Jess and their three young children.
The Crusaders and Waikato did all they could but Douglas' commitment to his contract - his first professional one - and his family sees the 26-year-old head overseas to work under former All Blacks fullback Kieran Crowley, Treviso coach since 2016.
"We would have loved to have Whetu continue to play for us and we did everything we could," Waikato head coach Sean Botherway said.
"He chose to sign on as a professional abroad, which is sad for New Zealand Rugby and very disappointing to lose a player of that quality.
"But Whetu has worked extremely hard over a number of years and had a breakout Mitre 10 Cup season, and the goalposts shifted for him.
"He gets to go and experience professional rugby, albeit out of New Zealand, and that's exciting for him and his family."
Highlanders first five-eighth Marty Banks had signed for Treviso last year but returned to New Zealand for personal reasons.
Botherway said Douglas' form for the Crusaders was no surprise at all after excelling for Waikato since the first of his 36 appearances since 2013.
No Super Rugby franchise had come calling; not until Robertson asked Douglas to train with the Crusaders as possible cover for Read, who was recovering from a wrist injury.
After a handful of training sessions with the Chiefs during his time in Hamilton, Douglas' Super Rugby chance came in round one of this year's competition, and he scored a try in the Crusaders' 17-13 win over the Brumbies.
Douglas also made his international debut last year on New Zealand's Maori northern hemisphere tour, but the lure of a professional contract in Europe proved too good to turn down.
"It was a hard decision to leave Waikato and New Zealand Rugby," Douglas admitted.
"This opportunity will allow me to be a full-time professional rugby player, and to look after my young family.
"I'm going to miss the Waikato set up, as it has been the back bone of my career to date and I hope to be back in the future."
Botherway said Douglas, who was captain in eight of Waikato's 10 NPC games last year, would hopefully return after at last experiencing the professional game.
"It's awesome to see that he's had that taste of what it's about and hopefully the door is not shut, so that he can come back into a Super Rugby environment now that he's proven his worth."
As well as Douglas, Waikato lock Brian Alainu'uese this week signed a two-yeal contract extension with Treviso's Pro12 rivals, Glasgow Warriors, and young first-five Jason Robertson heads to Japan this month, having signed for Tokyo Gas.
AT A GLANCE
Waikato's 2016 Mitre 10 Cup players overseas
Whetu Douglas - Crusaders/Treviso