Jason Woodward has been the nearly man in his rugby career so far. Signed by Bristol, this versatile and pacy fullback/wing might finally fulfil his potential and set the Premiership alight.
26-year-old Woodward joins the ambitious Bristol side after being part of the victorious Super 18-winning Wellington Hurricanes side. Woodward cut a frustrated figure in the Hurricanes side in his two seasons there, making only three appearances in 2015 and used intermittently in the starting lineup in 2016.
Woodward may have expected better treatment from the Canes after choosing to turn down the prospect of a Wallaby jersey and return to the province of his birth to pursue his dream of playing for the All Blacks. Before the Hurricanes, Woodward had two highly successful seasons at the Melbourne Rebels, scoring 210 points in 26 games, and was being touted as a Wallabies prospect under then coach Robbie Deans. Woodward only needed to remain on for one more season with an Australian side to qualify for Wallabies selection.
His decision to return to New Zealand seemed to backfire when you compare his 42 points in 18 games for the Hurricanes. However, his Canes experience ended on a high note, when his solid form was able to keep Julian ‘The Bus” Savea parked on the bench for the final round of games, the Super 18 play-offs and ultimately the Super 18 title match.
The 26-year-old may thrive at Bristol where he could have a more central role in guiding the team as he did for the Rebels. The Hurricanes, by contrast, are a team of glittering stars, with Nehe Milner-Skudder, Beauden Barrett and Julian Savea dominating plays and headlines.
Woodward, who was a New Zealand Under-20 representative, picked up regular game time at the Rebels, and if he receives the same at Bristol his undoubted talent will come through. Woodward has pace, is strong defensively and is an accurate goal kicker. The Wellington native’s most natural position is fullback, a role he was unable to pursue at the Hurricanes as the canny James Marshall held the position for the 2016 season.
Woodward, who might be mistaken for Channing ‘Magic Mike’ Tatum, is a flyer is every sense, having gained a helicopter license in New Zealand.
Bristol fans might witness something special from a player with a real X-factor this season.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena