The Crusaders have won the race for electric Taranaki wing Kini Naholo.
Naholo, the 22-year-old brother of former All Blacks, has been the most dangerous outside back in the NPC this season, standing out on the left wing for Taranaki.
That form had alerted the likes of the Highlanders, but the Crusaders have swooped to add Naholo to an already stacked backline.
Crusaders boss Colin Mansbridge declined to comment when queried by Stuff on the signing on Thursday morning, but the Christchurch-based franchise later confirmed the flyer would play for them next year.
“Kini is a powerful ball runner and prolific try-scorer, with a really impressive work ethic. We’re looking forward to welcoming him in to the Crusaders and helping further develop his immense talent,” Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said in a statement.
Naholo effectively replaces Manasa Mataele, who also played for Taranaki before joining the Crusaders, and has taken up a contract with the Western Force for Super Rugby Pacific.
After an injury-plagued spell at the Chiefs, Naholo has lit up the NPC with his play in the Taranaki No 11 jersey, beating defenders with ease and displaying a clever kicking game off either boot.
However, competition at the Crusaders will be fierce, with George Bridge, Will Jordan, Sevu Reece and Leicester Fainga’anuku among the back-three options.
Kini’s older brother Waisake is currently playing for Canterbury in the NPC and is also on the lookout for a Super Rugby contract, with the Highlanders declaring an interest if he can overcome his knee issue.
News of the signing will come as a blow to Highlanders fans, who had been hoping Kini would move to the deep south, particularly after the ACL injury to Jona Nareki.
“I followed his performance in the second NPC game, where he played really well,” Brown said.
“He’s got his knee heavily strapped, he’s had a lot of injury concerns as well.