Ngani Laumape A Thrilling Prospect for NZ Rugby

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Super Rugby Rd 8 - Blues v Hurricanes
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - APRIL 15: Ngani Laumape of the Hurricanes makes a break during the round eight Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Highlanders at Eden Park on April 15, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

He is arguably the form midfielder of all New Zealand Super Rugby teams. And Ngani Laumape is being talked up as a future All Black, but Laumape’s emergence has some people scratching their head and asking “just where has this guy come from?”.

Laumape’s stat line so far makes impressive reading:

  • competition leader in clean breaks with 20
  • second in tries (9) only to teammate Vince Aso
  • fifth in defenders beaten (28)
  • sixth in metres gained (553)

All of which has vaulted his name into the mix for New Zealand (NZ) Rugby, but that has come on the back of a unique development path to many of his contemporaries.

Laumape first attracted attention as a standout for the Palmerston North Boys High 1st XV, where he debuted as a 15 year-old fourth former (Year 10). Talent scouts were quickly drawn to his combination of size, power, and pace. Despite suffering an ACL injury, his college career culminated in selection to the NZ Schools side in 2011.

Ngani Laumape Early Career in NRL

However, his immediate post-school career had been determined a year earlier. After missing selection to the Hurricanes Under 18 squad, Laumape signed a deal with the New Zealand Warriors NRL rugby league side, putting his future in the 13-man game.

Ngani Laumape of the Warriors is tackled by Billy Slater of the Storm during the round 8 NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the New Zealand Warriors at AAMI Park (Photo by Robert Prezioso/Getty Images)

In his first season, he scored 16 tries for the Junior Warriors in the National Youth Cup (U20s) but the side came up short in its bid for a ‘three-peat’ of titles. Early the following year he made his first-grade debut, and over two seasons made 30 appearances on the wing or at centre for the Warriors. His attacking prowess was evident, scoring 11 tries but too often defensive lapses proved costly. Worse however followed, when in training ahead of the 2015 season he tore his ACL for the second time, and missed the entire NRL campaign.

Injury Leads to Career Change

After obtaining a release from his deal with the Warriors, Laumape signed on with his hometown Manawatu Turbos in New Zealand’s Mitre 10 Cup provincial competition. A deal aided by an impending contract with the Hurricanes, who were looking for players to fill the sizable holes left by the departures of stalwarts Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

His knee injury rehabilitation meant he wasn’t able to play in that years NPC–having to sit on the sidelines watching his team mates. Having bided his time and fully healed, Laumape played his first competitive game of rugby [since 2011] in the first round Hurricanes humiliation at the hands of the Brumbies, 52-10.

Despite struggling at times; especially defensively, Laumape made 11 appearances including seven starts for the Hurricanes in a fantastic season. Claiming the ‘minor premiership’ he was overlooked for the Super Rugby grand final in favour of Willis Halaholo and Matt Proctor in midfield. He still celebrated fully with his mates though–the first title in the ‘Canes franchises Super Rugby history.

Successful Return to Rugby Union

The 2017 season though has seen Laumape ‘break out’ in a huge way. Halaholo’s departure overseas opened the way for Laumape to establish himself as the incumbent, but more importantly was the game time he was able to get playing for Manawatu in the 2016 Mitre 10 Cup. There, he could develop his skills and decision-making in an environment more forgiving and at a (slightly) slower pace than Super Rugby.

Slower….although, with his natural ability and physical play, Ngani Laumape was a ‘human highlight reel’ from match one. His hat-trick against Southland indicated the threat that he would become, given the right foundations.

For a parallel in terms of ex-League players, look at the Blues Super Rugby sides signing of Benji Marshall. Specifically, the decision to not play him in the National Provincial Championship rugby the season before he ran out for Sir John Kirwan’s squad. And while noting that Laumape didn’t get time on the field (due to injury in 2015) being a part of the Turbos squad was an experience that has so far paid dividends for him and the development of his game.

Laumape Shows Similarities to ‘Canes Great

In many respects Laumape reminds many of a predecessor in the Hurricanes #12 jersey – Ma’a Nonu. Both endured early difficulties after stellar school careers, setbacks after being dropped and struggled to come to terms with the defensive side of their respective codes. Yet had the obvious physical attributes to succeed, the natural ability.

Super Rugby Rd 4 - Hurricanes v Highlanders
Ngani Laumape of the Hurricanes breaks away for a try during the round four Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Highlanders at Westpac Stadium on March 18, 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

In time, Nonu eventually turned himself into a complete, well rounded player and while Laumape has some way to go to reach the heights of the 160 Super Rugby/103 All Black tests that Nonu played–all indications are that he’s following the same path upward.

While not getting ahead of the players progression, midfield places in the All Blacks set up are scarce. Inside and outside center are being keenly fought over by a talented group that includes Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, Anton Lienert-Brown, George Moala, and Rieko Ioane from the last tour. Not to mention returnees Sonny Bill Williams and Charlie Ngatai, and even his own teammates Proctor and Aso, who are themselves edging into the frame.

A Thrilling Prospect for NZ Rugby

A spot against the Lions would seem a long shot, but a place on the end of year Northern Tour wouldn’t seem too far-fetched. He is a such thrilling prospect for NZ Rugby.

And yes, for all the excitement and enthusiasm at present, Ngani Laumape could also be a history maker; no one has yet played rugby league for the Warriors, and then also (probably) played for the All Blacks. My money is on Laumape being the first!

“Main photo credit”

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