Tryless Otago wing Jona Nareki puts team first as Northland await

Jona Nareki has revealed why he gift-wrapped a try for halfback Kayne Hammington last week even though the normally prolific Otago wing has yet to cross the chalk in the Mitre 10 Cup this season.

Nareki, who is preparing to take on Northland in the first Mitre 10 semifinal against Northland on Friday, sliced through the Tasman defence last Saturday and was heading for a certain try underneath the sticks when he tossed the ball to Hammington.

Puzzled onlookers wondered if Nareki owed a debt to his Highlanders team-mate, but it appears the gesture was a selfless act from a maturing footballer who is starting to understand the bigger picture.

“It was pretty bad because it's part of my job description to score tries,” Nareki told Stuff.

“But just before the game on Saturday morning, [captain] Michael Collins comes up to me and says, ‘Do you know that Kayne hasn't scored a try in an Otago jersey’?”

“So, I thought, ‘hopefully he can get me one off me today’ and all of a sudden I turn my head and I see him [running a support line] and I think, ‘it's meant to be’, and I gave him the ball.”

Nareki, 22, has had a big year. He made his Highlanders debut against the Sharks way back in February, scored in his first three Super Rugby games and emerged as a key part of the Highlanders attack.

The five pointers have been hard to come by during Otago's Mitre 10 Cup but the Hammington try is just one example of how Nareki has found other ways to make a contribution.

In the Round 7 game against Northland in Dunedin, Nareki was everywhere on defence and attack in the absence of [Josh Ioane and Vilimoni Koroi, who had been dropped for disciplinary reasons.

“There were two key players in out attack who were not playing and I had to step up,” Nareki said.

“I had to do more and not just sit on my wing. The more I do it the more comfortable I get. I’m just trying to be an option.

“It's a confidence thing. For example, with [Otago wing] Freedom [Vahaakolo]], I’m still trying to push him to have confidence to be able to leave his wing and play a position that's not wing, either at first receiver or on my side.”

Otago will be without Vahaakolo against Northland, with the in-form wing ruled out with an injury.

That means Koroi will wear the No 14 jersey while powerful midfielder Thomas Umaga-Jensen – the twin brother of new All Blacks Peter Umaga-Jensen – will make his Otago debut from the bench.

Vahaakolo's injury puts even more onus on Nareki to provide the cutting edge for Otago, especially against a Taniwha side that will inevitably improve from that 30-7 thumping in Round 7.

Nareki's body is feeling the strain as the Mitre 10 Cup rolls into Christmas shopping season, but he believes there is enough left in the tank to push through for at least one more week.

“The body's been good and bad,” Nareki said.

“It helped that I had a wee rest in the Southland round, so it's refreshed now and it's ready to hit the semis and hopefully the finals.”