The Crusaders have suffered a setback with the news that back-row Whetu Douglas will be heading overseas to join PRO12 club Treviso.
Douglas, who played his last match for the seven-time champions against the Sunwolves last weekend, has been one of the Crusaders' stars in their unbeaten run this season after he joined them on a short-term contract as late injury cover for All Blacks captain Kieran Read.
The 26-year-old Waikato Mitre 10 Cup captain confirmed his deal with Treviso will begin in June.
The Maori All Black who went on last year’s Northern Tour will link up with former All Black and coach of Treviso, Kieran Crowley, who took over as the head coach of the Italian outfit last season.
“It was a hard decision to leave Waikato and New Zealand Rugby. This opportunity will allow me to be a full-time professional rugby player, and to look after my young family.” Douglas told Waikato's official website.
“I’m going to miss the Waikato set up, as it has been the back bone of my career to date and I hope to be back in the future. I'd like to thank everyone at the Waikato Rugby Union past and present, for their role in my development as a player and as a leader since my arrival in 2009.
“I'm excited about playing at Benneton Treviso next season, and to experience all that the Italian culture has to offer myself and my whanau.”
Waikato coach Sean Botherway is thrilled Douglas has the opportunity to be a full-time professional.
“Whilst it’s a shame it is not here in New Zealand, Whets is a quality player and has worked exceptionally hard over a number of years and deserves his opportunity to play the game professionally," he said.
"He has been a massive contributor to Waikato Rugby and is immensely well respected by both his peers and management.”
“We will miss Whetu, but at the same time we wish him, Jess and the kids well in their adventures overseas. I hope this is not the last we see of him in the Mooloo colours."
Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson said they were hoping to extend Douglas' loan deal but could not come to terms with Treviso.
"Whetu had signed a contract with Treviso before he came down to the Crusaders and we were hoping to have him for the whole season," Robertson told Stuff.
"Now he has to, in simple terms, honour that contract. He left us this week with a lot of disappointment on and off the field. Everyone knows, and he will say it, he exceeded expectations.
"He would have loved to have stayed. But that is just the way it worked out."