Nemani Nadolo brings 'fear factor' to Crusaders
Crusaders fans shouldn't question Nemani Nadolo's credentials just because he can't crack his Japanese club's starting team, Greg Cooper says.
Last week the Crusaders announced Fijian international centre/wing Nadolo had signed a "one plus one" contract, allowing him to play in next year's Super Rugby competition in addition to having the option of returning in 2015.
After revealing the massive Nadolo, who stands 1.95m and weighs around 130kg, had joined the Crusaders, head coach Todd Blackadder was enthusiastic about the intimidation factor he would would bring to his backline.
Yet Nadolo, who joined NEC in 2011, isn't even starting for his club.
This is because NEC head coach Cooper, who can field only two foreigners at any time under the competition rules, has preferred to start flanker Nili Latu and midfielder Neil Brew before unloading Nadolo off the bench.
Cooper has defended his selections, stating they are about the need to juggle his foreign players rather than a reflection of Nadolo's form.
"For the last two years Nems has started most of the games - it's just this year we have looked at alternative options. It was more tactical than anything else, it was no reflection on him," said Cooper, who believes wing is Nadolo's best position.
"There is a fear factor about him in Japan because of his size. It might be tactical or because we have got the foot on the throat we say 'OK now bring him on'. It is just about judging the game."
Nadolo, who will miss the Crusaders' opening games in February and return to NEC when the Super Rugby season is over, is largely unknown to New Zealand fans. When he arrives here his work ethic, ability to handle the grind of Super Rugby and the chilly New Zealand winter will be closely scrutinised.
Cooper confirmed Nadolo's physique is as impressive as it looks on TV; his playing weight hovers between 125-130kg (Jonah Lomu was around 118kg in his heyday), he possesses impressive acceleration and can also kick goals.
"He's got X-factor skills and obviously being around 130kg in a one-on-one situation, with his balance, he is quite devastating. Even if it is against a 100kg wing, which is still big, he is going to be quite hard to stop close to the line," Cooper said.
In Japan, opposition sides try to exploit his massive frame by turning him around with kicks and that will be one area the Crusaders will be eager to assist in upskilling him.
Before joining NEC, Nadolo, who moved to Australia when he was three months old and is currently touring Europe with Fiji, had rugby wanderlust. He was a member of the Waratahs squad in 2009 and later played for French and English clubs Bourgoin and Exeter.
NEC have qualified second in their pool of eight teams and are now preparing for the next phase of competing against the top eight sides.
Cooper said the 25-year-old is prepared to do "extras" in the gym but had to be asked not to push massive weights because carting more muscle around could be detrimental to his game.
"He's one of those guys who is a very muscular man - anyone who is around 130kg is not a high endurance athlete.
"He's a power athlete and a big work-on, clearly, is going to be endurance because you are going to use a lot of oxygen with a frame like that."