League: Rugby's latest social media sensation snapped up by Warriors
By Campbell Burnes, David Skipwith
11:28 AM Wednesday May 3, 2017
The Warriors have won a tug-of-war with rugby union to secure the services of the hottest teenage athletic prospect in Auckland.
Viral footage of Etene Nanai, a cousin of Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
, former Chiefs' Samoan centre Tim Nanai-Williams and Blues outside back Melani Nanai, starring at centre for St Kentigern College First XV is wowing social media audiences and raising the question of who has nabbed the signature of the fast-rising 17-year-old.
Warriors development manager Tony Iro confirmed Nanai was signed to the NRL club until the end of 2019 and also revealed coach Stephen Kearney
wanted to unleash him in the Auckland Nines in February but he was ruled ineligible due to age restrictions.
The Warriors are happy for him to concentrate on rugby during his final school year but there is a possibility he could turn out for the club's Under 20s side once his First XV commitments have finished.
"He's been with the club for a couple of years but First XV is his priority at the moment," said Iro.
"He's a talented and smart kid and pretty well balanced. He's quick, got good feet and a good footy sense as well, so he's got all the attributes you need. He'll be a good player.
"He spent a little bit of time with the NRL side just before Christmas and did some training but he'll just stay with his First XV side this year before joining us in the preseason."
Warriors back-rower Ryan Hoffman said Nanai made a big impression when he left star halfback Shaun Johnson
clutching at air during pre-season training.
"He stood out when he gave Shaun a bit of his own back," said Hoffman.
"We were doing a one- on-one defensive drill and he turned Shaun inside out so that certainly raised a few eyebrows.
"I don't think he could wipe the smile off his face after that."
Auckland-born and bred, Nanai was a standout at fullback in St Kentigern's 2015 Auckland 1A title win and is now proving a YouTube hit after dominating in midfield to help his side win last week's Presbyterian quadrangular tournament and a pre-season match against Christchurch Boy's High.
St Kentigern First XV coach Tai Lavea says he is happy to give Nanai a new challenge, both defensively and organisationally, at centre.
"He's got a lot to learn, but it's a no-brainer that he's one of our marquee players," said Lavea. "He's an abrasive player, he's come back in ridiculous shape and his confidence in contact has gone to another level."
The High School Top 200 website
, which unofficially ranks the top First XV players in the country, has Nanai at No3, behind Wellington College lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi and Hastings Boy's first-five Lincoln McClutchie.
Despite his lofty status, Nanai - like fellow Warriors rookie forward and former Mt Albert Grammar First XV star Isaiah Papali'i - was ruled ineligible for the New Zealand Schoolboys rugby side after committing to the 13-man game.
The Warriors are keeping an open mind about where he could slot in through the backline and an eventual move into the halves is not beyond him.
"He's come through the grades as a fullback but he can play centre or wing very easily and has an accurate punt on him, so who knows if he could transfer those skills into the halves," said Iro.
"Time will tell but he's got plenty of skills that will give him the best chance to play a number of positions."
The Warriors secured Nanai's services despite plenty of interest from the Chiefs, who lured him to an Under 18s camp last year from under the nose of his local franchise the Blues.
"I know him well," said Rennie. "We talk to lots of good young kids. As you know, he's been signed by the Warriors, so whether he stays in rugby or goes to league, we'll see what happens."
Rennie admits he would love to see him at the Chiefs, or even in another Warriors jersey.
"I'd love to see him in a Glasgow jumper, but that's probably not going to happen," he quipped.