The last time we saw him playing in anger, Jone Naqica was limping around on a bum knee.
That was the 2010 Super League Final, where the San Francisco Golden Gate fullback pulled up lame partway through the first half. Since then he has served as team manager, 7s team coach, the guy running the scoreboard, and just about everything else.
Now the former USA 7s captain is back on the field, and things feel right again. Naqica was on the subs bench for SFGG last weekend as they took on, and beat, the Chicago Griffins. Twenty minute at the end of the game? Yeah, that felt just fine.
“It’s been a long time,” Naqica told RUGBYMag.com. “A long period of recovery. But I really wanted to get back playing. I did some coaching, managing the team, stuff like that. That’s good and I enjoyed it, but I still want to play.”
Perhaps not 100% and maybe not as speedy as he once was, Naqica is still shifty, smart, and multi-skilled. The man who made his debut for the USA 15s team in 2001, scoring two tries against England, by the way, still knows what it’s like to make an entrance.
“I was pretty nervous going out there,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how my knee was going to take it. You’re always nervous about putting strain on it. I was also nervous because I wanted to do well. But I got to make a tackle, run with the ball, got tackled – all that stuff. It felt really good.”
Naqica also got to be in the middle of an SFGG in transition that still looks to defend its 2011 Super League title.
“I thought the boys looked good,” he said. “Paul Keeler coaches a running style and the guys, even the new guys, get it. The key thing is to play as a team and stick to the pattern we’ve set out. When we do that we play well.”
Playing well is nice. Playing at all … well you can’t put a price on that.
“I’m proud that we have a successful program, and I am really happy to be back play. You just have that desire to get back there, and I really wanted to come back.”