Fijian lock Api Naikatini has signed up for a fourth season with Old Glory, his fifth in MLR overall. The veteran campaigner has played in the Top 14 in France, the NPC in New Zealand, and the Top League in Japan in his 15-year professional career. In 2019, he was an instrumental part of the Seattle Seawolves' championship-winning team, before moving to Old Glory for the 2020 season.
Naikatini has also been a key part of Old Glory, playing in 29 matches in three years, which is about 80% of OGDC's 37 total matches. That puts him second on the list of most capped Old Glory forwards, just behind fellow lock Tevita Naqali. In 2022, he played in 12 matches, starting 8 of them, for 580 minutes, with injuries and a red card preventing him from playing more. He also managed to get a try, which is always an accomplishment in his position, since locks are generally facilitators rather than scorers. He's a steady and experienced presence on a team that was often lacking those things last year.
One concern for Naikatini, though, is his age. He is older than any other player in Old Glory's history and older than the next oldest active player, Junior Sa'u, by a full two years. By the end of the upcoming season, he will be 38 years old, well past when many players retire. So far, this hasn't seemed to be too much of a problem. he made 94 tackles last season and hit 104 rucks, both respectable numbers given his time on the field. However, his tackle percentage leaves something to be desired at 83%, which could be a sign of him slowing down. He also will likely need longer to recover these days, as he has had intermittent injuries in the last couple of years.
Not that any of this should be taken as a knock against him. Even an aging Api Naikatini is well worth having on the team. He brings a load of experience to a team that is otherwise pretty young, and he has an excellent sense for the game honed over decades of play. He will likely be the third choice to Tevita Naqali and Stan South in the second row, which is a reminder of just how many high quality locks OGDC has. He's a quality player and it's great to have him back in the lineup.
Curious who has been signed and who is leaving? Check out our 2023 Signings Tracker for all the updates!