Usually, however, the off-contract players tend to stay put – such is the commitment that they have to the culture in Crusaders country.
Bulldozing outside back Leicester Fainga’anuku has become the latest to extend his time with the Super Rugby Aotearoa champions, agreeing to a new deal that will keep him in Christchurch until 2023.
Fainga’anuku joined the Crusaders in 2019 but made just one appearance in his debut season. Last year, the 21-year-old featured regularly off the bench in the Crusaders’ title-winning run while in 2020, he’s become a staple selection in the side, running out at centre or on the wing 13 times this season.
Fainga’anuku joins Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Quinten Strange, Mitchell Dunshea, Tom Christie, Cullen Grace, Mitchell Drummond, Jack Goodhue, David Havili and Braydon Ennor as players signed with the Crusaders through to 2023 or beyond.
At 1.88m tall and well over 100kgs, Fainga’anuku is a wrecking-ball in the midfield and exactly the type of player that Ian Foster could be looking to bring into the All Blacks fold this year, especially with Ngani Laumape heading to France.
While he’s had ample minutes at centre in 2021, Fainga’anuku has been used primarily on the wing since Braydon Ennor returned to full fitness, but he’s slowly becoming accustomed to switching between the roles.
Fainga’anuku was almost lost to the 15-man code, having focussed on rugby league during his formative years.
Days before he headed to Sydney to sign a contract with the NRL’s Roosters, Tasman made a bold play for the then-15-year-old and Fainga’anuku made the decision to remain in New Zealand and play union – after a little bit of gentle guidance from his father.
“The way he spoke to me, I knew the contract was quite a serious thing,” Faina’anuku previously told The XV. “At the same time, I was thinking, ‘Man, I’m leaving tomorrow. I’m meant to fly out of here and sign with the Roosters.’
“I was hardcore into rugby league, my dreams and aspirations were rugby league, but then with my old man, talking to him, I sort of did it, put pen to paper, just for him. I knew that he always wanted me to play union.”
Fainga’anuku will continue to battle it out with the likes of Ennor, Havili, Goodhue, Sevu Reece, George Bridge and Will Jordan for a regular starting spot in the Crusaders while there’s naturally even greater competition for opportunities with the All Blacks.