Sevens star Max Woodward gives up Hong Kong captaincy for Japan Top League contract
The 26-year-old is keen to ‘spice up’ his career during a two-year deal with the NTT Shining Arcs in Tokyo
An eagerness to “spice up” his career has seen former Hong Kong sevens captain Max Woodward sign a two-year deal with Japan Top League side NTT Shining Arcs.
The 26-year-old is settling into life in Japan and pre-season is in full swing ahead of the start of the season in August.
Giving up the captaincy was an agonising decision for Woodward, who had to make the call to leave prior to the Hong Kong Sevens not knowing whether Hong Kong would be playing on the World Series.
“Your rugby career is short-lived, I wanted to spice it up a little bit with a change of scenery and a new environment,” he said. “[Giving up the captaincy] was a big thing for me because we had been on a good journey.
“The team had been together for a while and I felt like we were working towards something. Unfortunately we weren’t able to achieve our goals when I was captain.”
Woodward is hoping to remain involved with Hong Kong and, with the Top League season finishing in January, is confident he can still play a part in the Sevens.
“Obviously it depends on how things go with selection in Hong Kong, but from my perspective as long as I’m available I’ll be keen to come over,” he said.
“I want to be available to come and train and hopefully put my hand up for selection leading into Hong Kong and going into the World Series qualifier again.”
While he hasn’t played 15s for Hong Kong since the 2015 Asia Rugby Championship, Woodward is ready to put more focus on that side of his game and is eyeing the outside centre position for the Shining Arcs.
“The sevens stuff, with the build-up to the Olympics that was why the focus was there, but now it’s a good time to have a break from that,” he said.
“For the 15s, if I’m playing well in Japan and I can get a look in for the November tests [for Hong Kong] that would be great.”
As a Hong Kong passport holder, Woodward will get maximum opportunities in Japan as he doesn’t fall under the foreign-player allocation but rather the two Asian passport holders each team can have.
Based in Tokyo Bay, the Shining Arcs finished fifth last season and Woodward will get the chance to rub shoulders with the likes of star South Africa fly half Elton Jantjies.
“These guys have got test experience and have played in the World Cup and things like that, so it will be good to get amongst them at training,” he said.
“To be exposed to coaches I haven’t worked with before and great players, it’s a big challenge for myself, not just playing but training in Japanese.
“It’s not like Hong Kong where like a typical expat I have got away with speaking English to everyone, you really need to buy in and learn the language, which I will try and do.”
Woodward follows in the footsteps of Hong Kong teammates Mark Wright, Rowan Varty and Jamie Hood – who spent last season with the Ricoh Black Rams but is now back in Hong Kong – and is loving being in Japan ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
“I went to watch Hong Kong play Japan when they were here and rugby is really kicking off,” he said. “I think it is going to be a mega event.”