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New players add exciting touch to Gallagher Chiefs

Rising sevens star Etene Nanai-Seturo is looking forward to “joining the Chiefs brotherhood” in Super Rugby next year.

The Counties Manukau speedster, who made his debut for the All Blacks Sevens team in 2018, including scoring a try in the side’s Commonwealth Games gold medal win over Fiji, has been named in the Gallagher Chiefs squad for the 2019 Investec Super Rugby season.

Nanai-Seturo, 19, is one of four Gallagher Chiefs squad members who will hope to make their Super Rugby debuts in 2019, joining Taranaki and All Blacks wider squad prop Reuben O’Neill, New Zealand U20s lock Laghlan McWhannell, and Tongan-born Japan international winger Ataata Moeakiola.

Described by Gallagher Chiefs head coach Colin Cooper as “very quick, with a great work ethic”, Nanai-Seturo said he was thrilled to earn a Super Rugby contract with the Gallagher Chiefs.

“It’s an honour and a privilege to be part of the team,” the former New Zealand Schools representative said. “I’m pretty stoked, but a bit nervous at the same time.”

He said he was excited about bringing his sevens skills to the squad while developing as a 15s player.

“I’m really looking forward to getting into the team environment, training hard, learning from the coaches and players, and being part of the Chiefs brotherhood.”

Taranaki prop O’Neill, 23, has had a rapid rise from provincial player to All Blacks wider squad member without playing a minute of Super Rugby. A versatile prop who can play both sides of the scrum, O’Neill caught the attention of the All Blacks selectors in the Mitre 10 Cup and was named in the wider squad for the Japanese leg of the end-of-year tour.

“I’m really excited and keen to get up there and put my best foot forward,” he said of his inclusion in the Gallagher Chiefs squad.

“I obviously haven’t played Super Rugby before so it’s a whole new level for me, just as being in the All Blacks squad is another level again. But I’m really up for the challenge, and want to keep developing my game – I’m definitely not the finished product so want to pick everyone’s brain, work hard and improve.”

The former New Zealand Schools representative will link up with his former Taranaki coach, Cooper, who said O’Neill was a great addition to the squad.

“He’s a strong scrummager at loosehead and tighthead and through his hard work for Taranaki this season he forced his way into the All Blacks squad. We’re really pleased to have Reuben in the group,” Cooper said.

Lock McWhannell had a stellar New Zealand U20s campaign, which was followed by a strong Mitre 10 Cup season with Waikato. Another player to have come through the New Zealand Schools ranks, the 20-year-old had a taste of Chiefs rugby at the Brisbane 10s tournament this year and said playing Super Rugby with the Gallagher Chiefs had always been a goal.

“I’m stoked. Growing up and going to school in Hamilton, I’ve always wanted to be a Chief, so I’m excited and really keen to get stuck in,” he said.

McWhannell has spent time training with the Gallagher Chiefs, and Cooper said he was an “exciting young player” who would develop under the guidance of All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick.

“I think having Brodie there, I’ll be able to learn a lot from him,” McWhannell said. “I’m really looking forward to being amongst the squad, learning as much as I can, and hopefully helping the team.”

Cooper said Tongan-born Japan international winger Ataata Moeakiola, 22, who they had followed through the Gallagher Chiefs’ connection with the Kobe club in Japan, was an exciting prospect with “huge potential”.

Another two players, who already have Super Rugby experience, are new to the squad.

New Zealand-born utility back Jack Debreczeni, 25, represented Australian Schools and played 42 games for the Melbourne Rebels before returning to New Zealand and impressing for Northland in the Mitre 10 Cup this season.

“Jack’s a very experienced player, is versatile and will add to the mix at 10, 12 or 15. He’s also a good kicker and game driver,” Cooper said.

Samoa age-group representative midfielder Tumua Manu, 25, has played for the Blues and has starred for Auckland in the Mitre 10 Cup this season.

“He’s a quick and physical player – there’s a lot to like about him,” Cooper said.

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