The competition for a starting spot in the number 2 Moana Pasifika jersey will be fierce in 2022 with the signings of Ray Niuia and Luteru Tolai. Both hookers were part of the resurgent Blues squad to win the inaugural Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title earlier this year.
Tolai was a replacement player with the Blues for the 2020 and 2021 seasons and has now secured his first full-time Super Rugby contract with Moana Pasifika. The 23-year-old made his Super Rugby debut in February 2020 against the Stormers in Cape Town and collected 10 caps along the way. Born of a Samoan father and a mother who hails from the Cook Islands, Tolai is eligible to play for both Pacific nations.
A product of St Peter’s College, Auckland, Tolai used to play in the 8 jersey, and moved from triggering the scrum to forming it in the front row in his last year of high school. He impressed spectators with his agility, explosive speed and ability to turnover ball at the ruck. Tolai has scored an incredible 10 tries in 30 games for the North Harbour Heat, predominantly off the back of a driving-maul. The Papatoetoe-local will be one to keep an eye on at Mt Smart Stadium next year.
2019 Rugby World Cup campaigner Ray Niuia had already collected two Manu Samoa caps by the time he played his first Super Rugby match for the Highlanders in 2019. Niuia joins Moana Pasifika with an impressive 13 Test caps for the Manu, and nine years’ experience on the professional scene. Known for his strength and ability to bump off defenders, Niuia was capped by Samoa in 2018 when he played against the USA then Spain in the team’s end of year tour.
His professional career started out with the North Harbour Heat in 2013 where he spent four seasons, before shifting south to the Tasman Mako for a further three seasons. He was picked up by the Highlanders for their 2019 season where he made his competition debut.
After an impressive individual campaign at the Japan World Cup, the Blues came calling and Niuia returned to Auckland, the city of his birth. His Blues debut came in round one against the Chiefs but he suffered a season-ending knee injury. As fate would have it, the tenacious hooker sustained another knee injury during the 2021 campaign. Not wanting to miss another season, a determined Niuia made an impressive return in the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman semi-final and went on to play the Final the following week. Niuia is now plying his trade for the Manawatu Turbos who sit second on the Championship table in the Bunnings NPC.See all news