Nemani happy to foot it in Magpies

By Anendra Singh, ANENDRA SINGH sports editor

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HE deftly flicks the rugby ball behind his back before swivelling 180 degrees to send it into orbit with the dexterity of someone who is soccer savvy.

To appreciate Hawke's Bay Magpie Maritino Nemani's skills requires a degree of familiarity with his background.

His father, Maritino Nemani snr, who lives and works in Auckland, is a former Fiji international soccer player and coach.

Nemani junior laughs when asked if he could have played the beautiful game as well.

"That's why I don't play soccer because I'm not really good with my left foot, so I'm sticking with rugby because I like the physicality."

That same fleet-footed moves see Nemani slip through the nets following a light training session at the Napier Old Boys' Marist club grounds at Park Island, Napier, as I interview Hawke's Bay Magpies assistant coach Danny Lee.

I eventually corner him at the Onekawa Aquatic Centre pools not long after he finished a brief backline scrimmaging session with Lee as Zac Guildford, Dan Waenga and Chris Eaton were reduced to massaging their cellphones when not partaking in the jocularity on the paddock.

"Look, it's gone. It's all gone," says the 21-year-old Hastings Rugby and Sports player from the pool, pointing to his closely cropped bleach-blond hair that has gained him some TV footage during the ITM Cup coverage for a few weeks.

Also gone is the Magpies' experiment with the bullocking winger, who has found little traction in the centre position after a rash of injuries and newcomers prompted changes.

He will be the first to admit feeling out of sorts in the switch from wing to centre in a season where arguably the bounce of the ball hasn't gone the way of the Magpies.

"The last time I played centre was in the under-14s in Auckland.

"The wing's my professional position but the coaches gave me a chance so I worked on playing in the centre.

"I felt a little uncomfortable there and I thought I could push my way in but I think I'll stick to the wing."

He sees his ability to nail the opposition winger receiving a bomb as his "go-to" thing and is hoping his teammates will put the ball up for him today against Waikato in the Ranfurly Shield challenge, which kicks off at 5.35pm in Hamilton.

"It'll be good to win the shield for Hawke's Bay, especially playing in front of the Waikato fans," says the Chiefs player, who was part of the maiden title-winning squad early this year.

The Craig Philpott and Danny Lee-coached Magpies desperately need a victory to keep alive their hopes of remaining in the top-tier premiership of the ITM Cup.

Born in a village in the province of Bua on the island of Vanua Levu in Fiji, Nemani arrived in Auckland in 2002 to start a new life with his family.

"I got a break down here in Hawke's Bay so I've tried to stay here and be loyal," says the man who attended Sacred Heart College. He is in his second year in the Bay and nine years in the country.

Nemani has shrugged off the disappointment of missing out on the Chiefs' player listing for the 2013 Super Rugby season.

"I spoke to [Chiefs coach] Dave Rennie and he said it was a strategy call so I've been de-listed but that just means I'll be in the wider training group.

"They just wanted to start another two boys up so I'm No3, with Jackson Willison also de-listed.

"We'll see what happens. If I get picked up then I will get picked up," he says, adding he'll just have to work harder.

Nemani needs to lift his fitness and sees the Hawke's Bay sevens campaign later this year as the ideal platform to do that.

"Everyone's learning in the team and we're getting chucked into new positions but it's our first year," he says, emphasising the loss of half of last year's team means they'll have to work on their combinations a bit more.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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