Brought to you by Whanganui Rugby
In some good news out of the Delta variant postponing rugby, Steelform Whanganui gets their former NZ Heartland Player of the Year home.
Any concerns about outside backs depth has been removed by the return of Te Rangatira Waitokia, former NZ Sevens representative, Manawatu Turbos regular, Hurricanes Development standout and the 2016 Meads Cup winner.
The winger/fullback, 25, departed these shores in February to join the Rugby ATL club in Atlanta to play the 2021 Major League Rugby season.
They finished runners-up in the 12-team competition to LA Giltinis, beaten 31-17 in the August 1 final.
A former NZ Universities representative, Waitokia looked to return home for some offseason study, but because of his late arrival for the original pre-outbreak start of the NPC, Manawatu Rugby Union said he could not get a fulltime contract - at most he could be in their wider development group.
Cue Whanganui coaches Jason Caskey and Jason Hamlin contacting their former charge.
"We were able to get in touch online, to see what his plans were," said Hamlin.
"We simply asked the question; local player, more than keen to help out.
"We could give him some rugby; his plans are to go back to America for his [professional] competition."
He had to quarantine for two weeks and the delayed start for the Bunnings Heartland campaign also proved a blessing in disguise as Waitokia joined Whanganui last week for their resumption of training.
"Quite fortuitous for us, otherwise we wouldn't have had him 'til Week 4," said Hamlin.
A Cullinane College old boy, Waitokia starred for Whanganui in 2016 as a 19-year-old bolter out of the Metro team - having returned that year from Palmerston North for work.
He would score 12 tries in 11 games, earning a NZ Heartland XV jersey and later being named Player of the Year at the NZ Rugby Awards.
Manawatu couldn't wait to get him back and Waitokia had a Turbos Rookie of the Year 2017 season, while scoring tries for the Hurricanes Development XV and eventually working his way into the 2019 NZ Sevens squad.
Regarding his second stint in Whanganui colours, Hamlin said Waitokia followed instructions in 2016, but was now a rugged professional whose on-field vision and communication skills were as valuable as his natural sidestep.
"His words hold a lot more weight.
"The rugby he's played and the experience he's gained just shines through."
Fittingly, Waitokia's return game will be against Poverty Bay, as it was this opponent in Heartland's fifth round in September 2016 where the youngster cemented his future.
Waitokia scored four tries in Gisborne, which included beating 19-test All Black and Poverty Bay development officer Rico Gear absolutely cold from a lineout set play.
"He just came off his wing and left him, and we thought, 'what the Lord?'. I remember that very well," said Hamlin.