NZ sevens squad filling up, with two new players recruited
Electric Otago wing Jona Nareki is one of two newly contracted New Zealand sevens players for the 2017/18 international season.
Nareki is joined by Bay of Plenty fullback Bailey Simonsson, while former Highlander Kurt Baker returns to the group and adds valuable experience following DJ Forbes' retirement last month.
Coach Clark Laidlaw has finalised more than half of the squad and, with this week marking the official start of the new centralised sevens programme based in Tauranga, they are required to live in the Bay of Plenty.
"There is some good young talent in Bailey Simonsson and Jona Nareki, and we're hoping to lock in a few more as well," Laidlaw said.
"We need to be part of the New Zealand Rugby player development process and we are working hard with the Super Rugby clubs and provincial unions to strengthen those pathways."
In his first season in the Mitre 10 Cup, Nareki has impressed on the left-wing for Otago, running in eight tries. Only Canterbury's Braydon Ennor has more (nine).
With Forbes, who played 512 World Series sevens matches in his 11-year stint, now gone, Laidlaw hailed the timely return of Baker to the group.
"It's great to have Kurt Baker back; he is highly motivated, brings experience and a great competitive mentality which will be great for our group."
The Kiwis kick off their 2017/2018 season at the Oceania Rugby Sevens in Fiji in November, before the first legs of the HSBC Sevens Series in Dubai and Cape Town in December.
It's the start of a busy season for the side, which has the addition of the Commonwealth Games (April) and sevens World Cup (July) next season.
"That is a hugely exciting opportunity for us with two pinnacle events being included, it gives us two more tournaments together and two more chances to win," Laidlaw said.
"The guys have said they were disappointed and frustrated with last season and so are looking forward to what's ahead; they are motivated to do better."
Laidlaw expects the permanent, centralised base for the squad to provide countless benefits as they embark on their new era.
"Previously, players would spend anywhere between 150-170 nights a year away from home. Centralisation will reduce this by up to 50 nights a year, delivering more time together but less time away from the important support networks of family and loved ones," he said.