Moana Pasifika has named a squad with 38 of their 39 players experiencing Super Rugby during their inaugural year in the competition.
Levi Aumua leads Moana Pasifika haka Photo: PHOTOSPORT
The squad boasts 26 players with international rugby experience for Pacific Island powerhouses Manu Samoa and ‘Ikale Tahi. The addition of Wallaby veterans Sekope Kepu and Christian Leali’ifano boost the international player tally to 28.
Headlining the five new signings in the 2023 squad is Samoa-based loose forward, Miracle Fai’ilagi. The 23-year old was identified by Head Coach Aaron Mauger and Forwards Coach Leota Filo Tiatia at the World Rugby Pacific Combine held in Suva, Fiji.
The combine serves as a pathway to representing the Pacific Island national teams and provides exposure to a high-performance program. The top athletes from Samoa, Tonga & Fiji assembled in September for an intensive training week to emulate a professional rugby environment.
Moana Pasifika’s coaching staff attended the combine with the intention of rewarding two players with training contracts for the 2023 preseason. However, Fai’ilagi impressed with his physical prowess, game intelligence and professionalism which saw him rewarded with a full-time contract.
Aaron Mauger is incredibly excited about bringing the Vailele native into a Super Rugby environment. “Miracle is a natural leader who exudes humility, respect and tautua (service). He has represented Samoa in Rugby Sevens so has a solid fitness foundation, a high work rate and is hard-nosed. He isn’t afraid to put his head in to dark places and has a very high ceiling,” says Mauger.
“There was a lot of untapped talent at the combine and Miracle was one of several players that caught our eye. The way these young men responded to being in a professional environment for the first time was outstanding and we have rewarded another five players with preseason training contracts from the combine.”
Four further players have earned themselves their first Super Rugby contracts after impressing as replacement players for Moana Pasifika in 2022.
Otago’s Abraham Pole joined Moana Pasifika as a permanent injury replacement in 2022 and played in nine matches, scoring four tries. He solidified his starting spot on the loosehead side of the scrum and is a well-deserving recipient of a full-time Super Rugby Pacific contract.
Another welcomed addition to the squad is uncompromising Manu Samoa first five eighth D’Angelo Leuila. The 25-year old is a versatile athlete who can also play in the midfield and fullback. Head Coach Aaron Mauger was impressed with his NPC form for Waikato this year.
Tasman Mako lock Mahonri Ngakuru and North Harbour loose forward Michael Curry are also elevated to full time contracts for the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season.
Moana Pasifika begin their 2023 Super Rugby Pacific Campaign on Saturday 25th February against the Fijian Drua in a match that has been dubbed the Battle of the Pacific. Aaron Mauger is excited about the prospect of seeing the best of the Pacific on the field.
“It’s a dream to play the Drua in our first game and at home. It will be a celebration of all things Pasifika and a wonderful way to start the competition.”
Mauger is also eying the game in Apia on April 14th against the Queensland Reds as a special occasion.
“In the off season we have made a conscious effort to strengthen our connection to the Pacific Islands through establishing tangible pathways. To connect, serve and inspire our people in the islands is at the forefront of everything we do. It’s an exciting opportunity for everyone involved and hopefully the first of many trips to the Pacific.”
Moana Pasifika Super Rugby Pacific 2023 Squad
(Name, Moana Pasifika caps, village and/or iwi).
Forwards
Abraham Pole** (9) – Lapaha, Fua’amotu (Tongatapu) Funga Fonua (‘Eua) & Ha’apai
Alamanda Motuga (8) – Sataoa & Sa’anapu (Samoa)
Alex McRobbie (11) – Avatele (Niue) & Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whātua (Aotearoa)
Chris Apoua (5) – Salamumu & Fasito’outa (Samoa)
Ezekiel Lindenmuth (13) – Manono, Vaimoso & Moto’otua (Samoa)
Isi Tu’ungafasi* – Kolofo’ou & Kanokupolu (Tongatapu) (Tonga)
Jack Lam (6) – Gataivai & Malie (Samoa)
Joe ‘Apikotoa (11) – Fasi-moe-afi (Tongatapu) (Tonga).
Lotu Inisi (1) – Longoteme (Tongatapu) & Fangale’ounga (Ha’apai) (Tonga) & Falelatai (Samoa)
Luteru Tolai (8) – Gagaifo Lefaga (Samoa) & Titikaveka, Rarotonga & Aitutaki (Cook Islands)
Mahonri Ngakuru** (5) – Ngāpuhi
Michael Curry (8)** – Kaufusi, Fa’atoia & Vaoala (Samoa)
Mike McKee (2) – Titikaveka, Rarotonga (Cook Islands)
Miracle Fai’ilagi* – Vailele & Uafato (Samoa)
Penitoa Finau (4) – Leimatu’a, Falevai (Vava’u) Kanokupolu & Kolovai (Tongatapu) (Tonga)
Ray Niuia (8) – Saipipi & Sa’anapu (Samoa)
Samiuela Moli (11) – Te’ekiu (Tongatapu) & Leimatu’a (Vava’u) (Tonga)
Samuel Slade (9) – Sapunaoa, Vailoa & Palauli (Samoa)
Sekope Kepu (10) – Leimatu’a (Vava’u) & Niuafo’ou (Tonga)
Sione Tu’ipulotu (10) – Kolofo’ou, Talafo’ou, Longolongo (Tongatapu) O’ua (Ha’apai) (Tonga)
Solomone Funaki (10) – Fanga-‘o-Pilolevu (Tongatapu) & Pangai (Ha’apai) (Tonga)
Taukiha’amea Koloamatangi (6) – Pea & Ha’avakatolo (Tongatapu) (Tonga)
Backs
Anzelo Tuitavuki (3) – Angaha (‘Eua) Kolomotu’a, Falaleu (Vava’u) & Niuafo’ou (Tongatapu) (Tonga)
Christian Leali’ifano (11) – Magiagi, Letogo & Le’auva’a (Samoa)
D’Angelo Leuila (1)** – Gataivai & Fagali’i (Samoa) & Atahu (Tokelau)
Danny Toala (9) – Faleasi’u & Lotofaga (Samoa)
Ereatara Enari – Nofoali’i & Vaiala (Samoa) & Rongowhakaata & Te Aitanga A Māhaka (Aotearoa)
Fine Inisi (9) – Longoteme (Tongatapu) & Fangale’ounga (Ha’apai) (Tonga) & Falelatai (Samoa)
Henry Taefu (8) – Samatau & Falelatai (Samoa)
Jonathan Taumateine (10) – Nofoali’i & Satapuala (Samoa)
Levi Aumua (9) – Afega & Safa’atoa Lefaga (Samoa) & Tailevu (Fiji)
Lincoln McClutchie (12) – Ngāti Porou (Aotearoa)
Lolagi Visinia (4) – Afega & Safa’atoa Lefaga (Samoa)
Manu Paea (4) – Pelehake, Maufanga (Tongatapu) & Lotofoa (Ha’apai) (Tonga)
Neria Foma’i (5) – Lepuia’i Manono Tai & Magiagi (Samoa)
Tima Fainga’anuku (9) – Tongoleleka (Ha’apai), Tufuvai (‘Eua), Taunga (Vava’u) & Niuatoputapu (Tonga)
Timoci Tavatavanawai (8) – Naikawaga, Namara & Tailevu (Fiji)
Tomasi Alosio (3) – Levi Saleimoa & Falefa (Samoa)
William Havili (11) – Sopu Kolomatu’a (Tonga)
* denotes uncapped player
** denotes first Super Rugby Contract
The following players will be joining Moana Pasifika from the World Rugby Pacific Combine on preseason training contracts:
Joe Perez (Samoa)
Faletoi Peni (Samoa)
Semisi Paea (Tonga)
Frank Mafi (Tonga)
Alosio Moa (Tonga)
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