Moana Pasifika is pleased to announce the inaugural team to compete in the Bunnings Warehouse Super Rugby Under 20s Competition. The selection process was extensive with talent identifiers casting their net far and wide across the Pacific through an open expression of interest form. Over 500 applications were received within the space of a week.
A series of combines were held across New Zealand and the Pacific to test the athletic skills of the Pasifika youth who expressed interest in playing for Moana Pasifika. Speed, power, strength, agility, and aerobic fitness testing took place on top of traditional rugby-skill assessments.
Under 20 Campaign Manager Leasiosiofa’asisina Kevin Senio was pleased with the turnout at the combines. “Creating pathways for our Pasifika Youth is central to the Moana Pasifika organization and it was humbling to see so many young men wanting to represent their Pacific Island heritage.”
“The selection process was extremely tough as several players put their hands up during skills and fitness testing. Some players were too young for selection this year, but it was great to connect early and establish a database we can draw from for future teams. This is only the beginning of something great for our young athletes.”
The 27-strong squad features five players selected from Samoa and four from the Kingdom of Tonga. The five athletes from Samoa played for the successful Junior Manu Samoa team at the Oceania Under 20s Competition in November last year. This earnt them qualification for the Junior World Trophy to be played in Kenya later this year.
Another feature of the Pacific Island contingent is 19-year-old Kyren Tamoefolau who has already represented the ‘Ikale Tahi Sevens team on the HSBC World Sevens Series Circuit. He was their top try-scorer in their latest appearances at the Hamilton and Sydney legs of the circuit this year.
An additional 13 players were selected from the New Zealand combines which took place across Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch & Dunedin.
The Pasifika talent was prevalent across the country with many players putting themselves on the Moana Pasifika radar for the first time. Former Waitara High School midfielder Fatiauma Moehau-Leota travelled from the Taranaki region to attend the Hamilton combine and impressed immediately with his size and skillset, earning him selection into the team.
Other standouts from the combines included Te Awamutu Rugby Club hooker Manase Mohuanga, Kaikorai Rugby Football lock Mikaele Vaeau, Te Kawau Rugby lock John Samuelu and MAC Hawke’s Bay Prop Brandon Televave.
Another impressive addition is former Scots College Prop Maea Tema-Schmidt who made the Hurricanes Under 20s squad last year but has made the switch to represent Moana Pasifika in 2023.
The diverse squad features players of Tongan, Māori, Cook Island, Samoan and Ni-Vanuatu descent and have gelled well as a collective Pasifika unit. The team management and squad assembled at Mount Smart on Monday this week ahead of their campaign opener on Sunday at Owen Delaney Park in Taupō. They will play the Hurricanes at 12:55pm.
A new draw format will see the eight teams split into two pools for the opening round of matches with the Blues, Crusaders, Fijian Drua U20s and NZ Barbarians in Pool 1 and the Chiefs, Highlanders, Hurricanes and Moana Pasifika in Pool 2. There will be semi-finals and a final with all other teams playing off for placings.
Moana Pasifika CEO Pelenato Sakalia said:
“Moana Pasifika is excited to participate in the Super Rugby U20 competition. Developing pathways for our Pasifika youth to pursue their dreams is very important for Moana Pasifika. We are grateful to NZ Rugby for the invitation to participate in 2023.”
All games are LIVE and exclusive on Sky Sport.
Moana Pasifika Under 20s Team
Afa Moleli – Samoa (Matafa’a, Savaia, Sagone)
Bitner Tafili – Samoa (Magiagi, Vaivase, Fagaloa, Vaiala, Sanone Savai’i)
Bless Perese-Elliot – Samoa & Māori (Magiagi, Tufulele, Ngāti Awa, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui)
Brandon Televave – Tonga (Ha’apai, Faleloa)
Calvin Fepulea’i – Samoa (Alamagoto, Togafu’afu’a)
Dayton Iobu – Samoa & Cook Island (Vailoa, Lauli’i & Atiu (Enuamanu) Aitutaki)
Fatiauma Moeahu-Leota – Samoa & Māori (Tuana’i, Solosolo, Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Mutunga, Te Āti Awa)
Israel Otunuku – Tonga (Tokomololo, Ha’apai)
Jarius Iosefa – Samoa (Nofoali’i, Manono, Satupuala)
Joe Tunumafono-Sale – Samoa (Sataoa, Solosolo, Lauli’I, Lefaga)
John Samuelu – Samoa (Vailuutai, Falefā, Nofoali’i, Satapuala, Leauva’a, Avao)
Kobie Scutt – Cook Island & Māori (Avarua, Ngāti Ranginui)
Kyren Taumoefolau – Tonga (Tu’anekivale, Ha’afeva)
Lazarus Papali’i – Samoa (Fasito’o Uta, Sapapali’i Saliemoa)
Maea Tema-Schmidt – Samoa (Iva, Letogo)
Manase Mohuanga – Tonga (Maufanga, ‘Eua)
Mikaele Vaeau – Samoa (Palauli, Vaiusu-Tai, Vaitele-Uta, Manomo-Uta, Siumu)
Ofa Lea’amanu – Tonga (Ha’apai, Houma, Tongatapu)
Paulo Junior Paulo – Samoa (Fasito’o-uta, Vavau)
Riki Ruben – Vanuatu (Erata)
Salesa Seumanufagai – Samoa (Vaito’omuli, Palauli, Malie, Tufulele)
Sam Asotasi – Samoa (Letogo, Safotu)
Seuteni Jr Sueteni – Samoa (Saoluafata, Lalomauga, Salelavalu, Falefa, Leulumoega, Vaiala)
Sonatane Kaufusi – Tonga (Manuka, Lomaiviti, Fungafonnua)
Tevita (Kini) Fonua – Tonga (Kolomatua, Ha’ano)
Uluaki Kale – Tonga (Makave, Neiafutahi, Vava’u)
Wally Tau – Samoa (Palisi, Mulivai)
Laukau Halatonu – Tonga (Hunga, Vava’u, Gavelu, Tongatapu)
Saluni Pala – Tonga (Fu’amotu)
Head Coach – Gus Leger
Assistant Coach – Doug Sanft
Assistant Coach – Nili Latu
Assistant Coach – Shalom Senara
Team Manager – Ramsey Tomokino
Campaign Manager – Kevin Senio
Trainer – Levolo Leilua
Video Analysts – Ian Tuputala & Leaha Dickey
Videographer – Keepa Mewett
The 2023 Bunnings Warehouse Super Rugby U20 tournament draw is:
MATCH DAY 1 – Sunday, 19 March
11:05am – Fijian Drua v Blues
12.55pm – Hurricanes v Moana Pasifika
14.45pm – Crusaders v NZ Barbarians
16.35pm – Highlanders v Chiefs
MATCH DAY 2 – Wednesday, 22 March
11:05am – Loser M1 v Loser M3
12.55pm – Loser M2 v Loser M4
14.45pm – Winner M1 v Winner M3 – SF 1
16.35pm – Winner M2 v Winner M4 – SF 2
MATCH DAY 3 – Saturday, 25 March
11:05am – Loser M5 v Loser M6 – 7&8 Playoff
12.55pm – Winner M5 v Winner M6 – 5&6 Playoff
14.45pm – Loser M7 v Loser M8 – 3&4 Playoff
16.35pm – Winner M7 v Winner M8 – FINAL