Melbourne Rebels’ block-busting winger Sefanaia Naivalu will be going by the new nickname of “Super-sized Sefa” in 2016 season after stacking on some muscle in the off-season.
The flying Fijian became a crowd favourite at AAMI Park in his debut Super Rugby season, dubbed “Super Sefa” for his blistering speed.
His talent was recognised by his peers this week when he was voted Newcomer of the Year in the Rugby Union Players Association awards.
Naivalu’s season ended prematurely last May when he suffered a badly broken leg while playing in South Africa.
The Rebels are hopeful he will be fit for their opening match against the Western Force on February 26 although a hiccup in his recovery last month put him back a few weeks.
While pace was Naivalu’s big weapon, Rebels general manager Baden Stephenson said the 23-year-old had been working hard in the gym and added some bulk.
“He’s put a lot of effort in in the gym and made a significant improvement on his size and leg and upper body strength,” Stephenson said.
“One of the staff members put a photo up of Sefa in January 2014 so less than two years ago you would not recognise him, he was a very skinny Fijian boy and now he’s really put some size on.
“He’ll certainly be a very explosive player when he returns.”
The Rebels have retained 24 players from last year’s squad, which finished 10th – their best ever ladder position.
Skipper Scott Higginbotham was one of the departures, now playing in Japan, but the Rebels feel they’ve added some valuable experience in Reds recruits Wallaby James Hanson and Adam Thomson as well as Irish prop Jamie Hagan and Kiwi Culum Retallick.
“There’s a feeling that we’ve got a lot more old school experience within the playing stocks,” Stephenson said.
Hagan, 28, joins the Rebels from Irish club Leinster. He earned a Test cap playing against the United States in 2013.
“He’s been training the house down,” Stephenson said.
“He’s a big body and he’s very hungry to make his mark in Super Rugby.”