Rugby: Midfield star Charlie Ngatai on track for return

By Campbell Burnes

The revival has come as something of a relief for Charlie Ngatai. Photo / Photosport
The revival has come as something of a relief for Charlie Ngatai. Photo / Photosport

It is baby steps for Charlie Ngatai, who has finally rid himself of concussion symptoms to return to the playing field.

The 26-year-old midfielder came through 40 minutes unscathed on Saturday for his University club side in Waikato and was due to played a full 80 minutes yesterday against Old Boys. Another fixture looms on Saturday against Fraser Tech.

Having been out of action for nearly a year, Ngatai will not be rushed back into the Chiefs, nor is he thinking about the All Blacks. A preferable pathway is to regain match fitness at club level before transitioning back into the Chiefs later in May. If all goes well, then the June 17 Maori v Lions game and/or the June 20 Chiefs v Lions clash could be realistic goals.

The revival has come as something of a relief for Ngatai, who must have wondered whether his career was about to grind to a halt as it did with former Chiefs Ben Afeaki and Sean Polwart.

"It was awesome to put the boots on again. I've been training for the last month or so, so couldn't wait to get out there again," says Ngatai. "You don't want to jump straight into Super Rugby ... but I'm just taking every game minute as I can."

He admitted to feelings of frustration followed by relief.

"It gives you some perspective, you never know when you are going to play again and this week could be your last week. My main goal is just to get out there and put the Chiefs jersey on again and play well for them."

In the interim, Sam McNicol has slotted into the centre position and played particularly well against the Cheetahs, while Anton Lienert-Brown has been solid at second five.

"Charlie played fullback on Saturday, didn't touch the ball a lot, didn't have to make a tackle, but he loved the smell of liniment and just being out there," says Chiefs coach Dave Rennie. "We're not going to rush Charlie. We want to build him up.

"He's got himself in pretty good nick and we want to get him confident."

Meanwhile, the Chiefs will rest Tawera Kerr-Barlow this weekend - he was recovering anyway from a head knock in the 16-7 win over the Force - and with the suspension of Finlay Christie for three weeks for trampling, it means Jonathan Taumateine and Richard Juddwill take centre stage against the Sunwolves on Saturday.

- NZ Herald

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