Unwanted Nemani Nadolo haunting Waratahs
Born in Fiji, but raised in Brisbane, Nemani Nadolo was spurned by Australian Super Rugby teams but could star in tonight's final on Sydney soil. RICHARD KNOWLER talks to the Crusaders' find of the season.
There may have been some polite coughs behind closed fists in Sydney when the Crusaders revealed they had signed Nemani Nadolo.
Nadolo had been through the Waratahs system in the 2009-10 seasons, and when his file was plonked in the ''tried that, didn't work'' folder, he was told to hunt for a job elsewhere.
No other Australian franchises wanted him, either, so the Fijian left to play in France (Bourgoin), England (Exeter) and then Japan (Panasonic Green Rockets).
''When my two years was up that was it, really,'' Nadolo, who will start on the left wing in tonight's Super Rugby grand final against the Waratahs, said.
''There wasn't an interest for me to hang around there. At the time they had some good players like Drew Mitchell, who came in, and they still had Lachie Turner.
''If I was wanted I wouldn't have gone elsewhere but there wasn't. My next best option was to play for Fiji and go overseas.''
Nadolo, now 26, never played a Super Rugby game for the Waratahs, and his last appearance in Sydney was for Manly against West Harbour in a Shute Shield club game in 2010.
Now the 125kg finisher returns with a reputation as one of the most feared wings in Super Rugby, scoring 11 tries in 13 appearances. Only Waratahs fullback Israel Folau, who has grabbed 12 in 13 games, has a superior record.
The circumstances in which the two outside backs were signed by their respective teams are in stark contrast.
The high-profile Folau arrived at the Waratahs last year as the ex-rugby league star who had also played for Aussie Rules for the Greater Western Sydney Giants; months later he fast-tracked into the Wallabies' series against the British and Irish Lions.
When the Crusaders announced Nadolo had been recruited from a Japanese club footy, supporters and media scrambled for internet footage to assess his pedigree.
Nadolo arrived in Christchurch in late February and, rather than rush him straight into action, the Crusaders gave him time to recover from a medial ligament injury and worked on his conditioning.
While his debut as a substitute against the Rebels on March 14 was low-key, the way he ran rampant against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein a month later wasn't; Nadolo scored a hat-trick that day as he ran over and around defenders.
When he played in Sydney there were doubts as to whether he was fast enough to be a first-class wing, and he admits he has had to look for work more since joining the Crusaders.
''One of the things I have really worked on is to go really looking for the ball.
''In the past I haven't really had that dimension to my game and, I guess, playing at this level you are going to need that if you are going to be a decent winger when going up against Rob Horne, Alofa Alofa and guys like that.''
Nadolo compensates for a lack of blinding speed with his power, balance and deft handling skills that allow him to offload or accept difficult passes.
Yes, he would like to prove a few points to those who doubted his ability when he played in Sydney. No, this is not about revenge.
''There are, I guess, a lot of things behind playing the Waratahs in Sydney where I tried to have a crack and it didn't work. I can't wait.
''If I play well, and to the team structures, it will all fall into place. I am not going out there to have a vendetta against those guys.''
He reiterated he is keen to return to the Crusaders, and wants to sign his contract extension before returning to Japan next week.
''I haven't yet. I will make sure that is down pat before I leave.''