Chiefs and New Zealand Maori utility back Charlie Ngatai has signed a two-year deal with Taranaki.
The 23-year-old's departure from Wellington was announced by Taranaki Rugby yesterday in what is expected to be the first of several significant off-season signings following a miserable 2013 National Provincial Championship.
With James Marshall committing to Taranaki earlier this month, the squad already looks significantly stronger.
Ngatai's decision to leave Wellington was based on his desire to continually challenge himself.
Although appearing to be a natural midfielder, he played most of the 2013 NPC at fullback.
"When I heard that Taranaki was keen to have me I thought it was a great opportunity to experience a new environment and challenge myself," he said from the Chiefs' training base.
"I got to work with Coops [Taranaki coach Colin Cooper] during my time with the Maori All Blacks recently and the tour was great, so being able to continue developing as a player under his guidance in Taranaki was definitely a driver."
Although Taranaki would have been extremely keen to get someone of Ngatai's pedigree, the fact he was also in the Chiefs squad would do no harm in growing the franchise's fan base in the province after last week's partnership announcement.
His signing doubles the Taranaki presence in the Chiefs to two alongside hooker Rhys Marshall.
Cooper was naturally delighted to snare Ngatai, who could easily slot into second five-eighth or centre - with the former probably a preferred option for the coach and assistant Leo Crowley.
The loss of Jayden Hayward to the Force at the end of 2012 really hurt Taranaki last season, especially after they decided to go with rookie first five-eighths.
It was something Cooper acknowledged yesterday.
"Charlie fills the void which was created by the departure of Jayden Hayward," he said. "Our younger players will definitely benefit from having someone with his level of experience at ITM Cup level and beyond to learn from.
"He's an explosive, exciting player and we're rapt to have him for next season."
Although he is still young, Ngatai has already gathered a lot of first-class experience with Poverty Bay, Wellington, the Hurricanes, the Chiefs and New Zealand Maori. He is also another export from Taranaki's favourite learning institute - Gisborne Boys' High School - joining the likes of Blade Thomson, Jamison Gibson-Park and Beaudein Waaka.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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