Denny Solomona runs the ball back against the Crusaders in Christchurch last weekend.
New Highlanders weapon Denny Solomona believes he is about a week away from being at his very sharpest as he eyes making a significant impact in Super Rugby Pacific after spending most of his career in England.
Solomona made his Highlanders debut off the bench against the Crusaders last week, and has again been named in the reserves for the game against Moana Pasifika in Dunedin on Friday.
It’s a continuation of the Highlanders’ steady approach with the winger, but the time to unleash him from the start of the game is fast approaching.
“I’m feeling really good out there at the minute,” Solomona said after Highlanders training on Wednesday afternoon. “Brownie [Tony Brown] has been very patient with me.
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“He won’t allow me to drown because of the speed of the game. So, he’s allowing me to just get back up to match fitness, and I wouldn’t even say two weeks…I think I’ll be pretty much ready next week, and we’ll go from there.”
Solomona was picked up by the Highlanders after he returned from England earlier this year. He has brought partner Holly and young daughter Roux to Dunedin as he throws everything into the rest of the Super Rugby Pacific season, and he has already shown a glimpse of what he can do.
Coming off the bench against the Crusaders, he took one brilliant high ball over Richie Mo’unga from a Mitch Hunt kick – a skill he says he learned in rugby league rather than in rugby.
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“I think for my role in the team for these last few weeks was coming off the bench and giving the boys energy,” Solomona said.
“In such a crucial moment, all I wanted to do at the time was dominate my role and dominate that set phase.
“That was the move that we needed, and I wanted to put my hand up and offer myself to the boys.”
That clarity and maturity could be an enormous asset to the Highlanders when Solomona really hits his straps.
His YouTube highlights reel of full of classy tryscoring feats, but the Highlanders also want the 28-year-old to share his knowledge with a relatively raw back three.
“To be fair ‘Brownie’ hasn’t really asked that much, he said just offer whatever I’ve got to offer, whatever I’ve learned throughout the years over in the northern hemisphere and in England camps,” he said.
“We’ve got a pretty young crew here. If I’ve got any knowledge that can I can pass on then I’ll do so. He’s been very patient with me just because I’ve played a lot of football since coming from England.”
Solomona has been quick to cover off the essentials since his move to the Deep South, hitting up Highlanders captain Aaron Smith to show him the best source of good coffee.
After Super Rugby Pacific, he will head to North Harbor for the NPC, and way down the track there is the tantalising prospect of switching test nations from England to Manu Samoa.
Solomona is doing his best not to think that far ahead, although he admits he has noted that the nations have been drawn together in the same pool in the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
But before any of that can become a possibility, he must adapt to Super Rugby Pacific, where the style is different from the English Premiership.
“It’s probably the speed … of the unstructured play,” Solomona said of those differences. “The quickness of the game at the minute, I think that’s the only difference. Everything else is the same.
“So, I think you’ve got to be on for pretty much the whole game. One little slip up can cost you a try.”
Highlanders: Connor Garden-Bachop, Sam Gilbert, Fetuli Paea, Scott Gregory, Mosese Dawai, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith (c), Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, James Lentjes, Shannon Frizell, Josh Dickson, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Jermaine Ainsley, Andrew Makalio, Ethan De Groot. Reservations: Rhys Marshall, Ayden Johnstone, Saula Ma’u, Max Hicks, Gareth Evans, Folau Fakatava, Vilimoni Koroi, Denny Solomona