Former All Blacks midfielder Ngani Laumape will continue his career in Japan.
The Kobe Steelers have announced the signing of the former Hurricanes star for the 2022-23 Japan Rugby League One season.
Speculation over Laumape’s future has continued for weeks after he returned to New Zealand in July when his contract with Stade Français was cut short, reportedly for family reasons.
All Black at 15 Tests, Laumape last donned the black jersey against the Wallabies in November 2020. The 2021 season was his sixth Super Rugby for the Hurricanes and his final, with the damaging ball runner leaving for Paris over a period of three years. deal is said to be worth around $1 million per season.
The 29-year-old recently spent some time training with the Manawatū Turbos and there was rumor that he could compete in this year’s national provincial championship, but that didn’t materialize.
In July, Hurricanes coach Jason Holland said Things he “would still be interested in Ngani” but suspected that Laumape would be heading abroad.
Laumape, whose contract in France was not due to expire until June 2024, said he was delighted to embark on his work in Japan after a quiet period at home in Manawatū.
“I’m a fan of Japanese rugby myself, which is growing all the time, and I think my style fits well with Japanese rugby and the Kobe Steelers.
“The challenge will continue until the end of the season. I will do my part to bring good results to Steelers and Kobe Steelers fans,” Laumape said.
Laumape, who made 30 appearances for the Warriors in the NRL between 2013 and 2015, was left out of the 2019 All Blacks Rugby World Cup squad in a decision that many fans have disputed.
Despite returning in 2020, Laumape was never seen as the No.1 option in the 12 shirt and the versatility of other midfielders such as Jack Goodhue, David Havili and Rieko Ioane seemingly took priority.
Prior to his departure from New Zealand in 2021, Laumape was unimpressed with what was seen as a reduced salary package offered by NZ Rugby.
“Yeah, quite disappointing,” Laumape said in June 2021. “I think I offer something to the midfielder that no other midfielder in New Zealand can offer. At the end of the day, it’s a company, they did what they had to do and I have to do what is best for me, my family and my children. There are no hard feelings, I understand that is what it is .
But with all that time behind him, Laumape is now focused on a family move to Kobe.
“I look forward to new experiences in Japan with my family and to sharing the pitch with my new teammates.”
There has been no shortage of top All Blacks to come through Kobe’s doors lately, with Dan Carter and Ben Smith both recent alumni.
Current Kiwis on the list include former Sunwolves captain Michael Little and former Highlanders cult hero Richard Buckman.
Now, Black Ferns head coach Wayne Smith has a long association with Kobe as director of rugby.
With Dave Dillon returning to New Zealand to take on the defensive coaching role with the Highlanders, former Waikato loose forward Nick Holten has been promoted to head coach.