Supersized Namani Nadolo has X-factor appeal

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 05:00 16/03/2014
Nemani Nadolo
MARTIN HUNTER/ Getty
X FACTOR: Nemani Nadolo.

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He's potentially a sizeable solution to a growing problem for the Crusaders - the conversion of field position and possession into match-winning or bonus point-yielding tries.

Nemani Nadolo couldn't quite make a big first impression when he made his debut against the Melbourne Rebels on Friday night - yet the Fijian international showed glimpses of the attributes that encouraged Todd Blackadder to sign him virtually sight unseen from Japanese club NEC Green Rockets.

Five years after he was a member of the NSW Waratahs squad - where the bench press was ultimately his claim to fame - the 1.96-metre, 125kg wing finally launched the Super Rugby component of his footballing career at AAMI Park.

The 26-year-old did not make a significant contribution to a much-needed 25-19 victory as Nadolo - who played his first game for the Crusaders Knights in West Melton last weekend - experienced the frustrations associated with the current backline.

A brief cameo while Nafi Tuitavake was in the blood bin shortly before halftime ended empty handed; the ball was also elusive when he moved to the left wing when Israel Dagg withdrew with a knee injury.

Match statistics credited Nadolo with one run for seven metres - hardly an eye-catching return but enhanced service and greater involvement could see the Brisbane-raised behemoth develop into an offensive X-factor the Crusaders are sadly lacking.

Blackadder was encouraged by Nadolo's first experience of Super Rugby, an attempted intercept when the contest was under control at 25-12 the only irritation for the head coach, who gambled on signing a player with previous experience in Sydney club rugby, England's Exeter Chiefs and French Top 14 club Bourgoin-Jallieu.

"I thought we could have brought him into the game a little bit more, got him running hard early," said Blackadder, who is in search of a strike weapon.

Nadolo could ultimately meet those specifications given his Jonah Lomu-esque dimensions.

"If he continues to develop, absolutely," Blackadder told Fairfax Media after watching the Crusaders struggle to break the line against a workmanlike backline marshalled by former All Black Tamati Ellison.

"He's fitted in really well, he's had a taste of it now and he'll get better with a bit more confidence too. This game is about opportunities. If he wants it there are opportunities."

Nadolo certainly made all the right moves post-match, confirming he wanted to provide a cutting edge and/or battering ram to a team that has only managed six tries in four games.

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"I bring a bit of size to the backline," he said, in an understated manner.

"It was good to finally get a game under my belt, getting out there was so surreal," he said, noting his inability to break through at the Waratahs.

"I want to make sure I'm working hard to secure a spot in the 23. I'll keep working hard for it."

Blackadder would appreciate the direct running evident on Nadolo's YouTube clips, given the Crusaders were again guilty of playing too laterally with ball in hand on Friday night.

"It's just not quite gelling. I put my hand up for that. It's the third game with a different 10, it's going to take a bit of time.

"If we change things a little bit we'll definitely bring [backs] right into the game," he said, confirming attack would be a focus before the Crusaders host the Hurricanes on March 28.

Meanwhile, though Nadolo might eventually prove a match-winner for the Crusaders, Tom Taylor currently occupies that role.

After thwarting the Stormers in Christchurch last weekend with a try-saving tackle, the utility back kicked a perfect seven-from-seven to keep the Rebels at bay.

"It was pleasing. I just felt good," Taylor said of his goal kicking.

"In the last few weeks I've had a couple of annoying misses. I think I've been rushing a little bit so I slowed my tempo down."

Taylor also shared Blackadder's optimism regarding the Crusaders' attacking capabilities.

"We didn't make the line breaks we were looking for but I think that'll come. There's just a few errors sneaking in."

- Sunday News

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