In the final Round Robin of DHL Super Rugby Pacific, Moana Pasifika voyage to New South Wales to face the Waratahs. Despite a season that has not gone their way on paper, Moana Pasifika have shown up each week and never failed to deliver an exciting brand of Pasifika rugby. Firmly in the sixth position on the ladder, the Waratahs will be looking to create some momentum as they head into the quarter finals and will not be an easy task for the visitors, still hunting their first win.
Last week’s historic Battle of the Pacific saw the Fijian Drua claim a remarkable 47-46 win over Moana Pasifika. The 93-point thriller went down to the wire and was a brilliant spectacle, showcasing the beauty of Pacific Island flair to the world. This week Moana Pasifika will have to be at their best against the hard-hitting Waratah defence, headlined by Wallaby veteran Michael Hooper.
For his final game at the helm, Aaron Mauger leaves behind a historic legacy as the inaugural coach of Moana Pasifika. An experienced leader and a man driven by culture; the team are hoping for an inspired performance to send their coach off with a much-deserved victory. It has been invaluable for Moana Pasifika to have an established Head Coach who has embraced his Pacific Island heritage and has been integral in driving Pasifika success in Super Rugby.
Mauger has named his team to face the Waratahs in his last dance.
Moana Pasifika’s 2022 top try scorer Abraham Pole (Lapaha, Fua’amotu – Tongatapu). Funga Fonua ‘Eua & Ha’apai) is back this year to recapture his throne as he returns to the starting line-up this week. After a solid showing in Lautoka, crossing the line once again, the product of Otago Boy’s High has been a try-scoring machine during his time at Moana Pasifika. He currently sits first equal as 2023’s top try scorer with eight to his name and heading into their final game.
A season’s best performance against the Drua sees Luteru Tolai (Gagaifo Lefaga) get the nod at hooker. The St Peter’s College old boy will be looking to unleash his dynamic running game that has been a prominent aspect of his game throughout the season.
Completing the front row is the physical Sosefo ‘Apikotoa (Fasi-Moe-Afi – Tongatapu). After a season plagued with injuries for the Tongan International, ‘Apikotoa will be looking to end his campaign for 2023 with a dominant display.
In his familiar number four jersey, Michael Curry (Kaufusi, Fa’atoia, Vaoala) has been a tireless leader for the forwards this year. Often the target in the lineout, Curry’s versatility as a lock and loose forward has been an invaluable asset as a strong ball runner and defender in the second row.
Returning from an extensive hamstring injury, Samuel Slade (Sapunaoa, Vailoa, Palauli) starts as Curry’s lock counterpart. The Manu Samoa international was a marquee figure in the Moana Pasifika forward pack prior to his injury and will relish this opportunity to run out in the orange jersey for the last time in 2023.
After a breakout debut season, former Lauli’i Lion and the pride of Vailele, Miracle Faiilagi starts as blindside flanker. The 198cm loose forward has been a sight to behold with ball in hand, erupting onto the Super Rugby scene, inspiring local Pasifika players with dreams of pursuing rugby professionally.
Making his third start of the season, Bay of Plenty Steamer’s Penitoa Finau (Leimatu’a, Falevai – Vava’u. Kanokupolu & Kolovai) comes into the number seven jersey. Finau was extremely impressive in his second appearance for Moana Pasifika last week, his hard work and perseverance to return from injury paid off in a game that saw him at his ball-running and physical best.
Leading the way from the back of the scrum is captain Solomone Funaki (Fanga-O’-Pilolevu- Tongatapu. Pangai -Ha’apai). With last year’s captaincy trio Sekope Kepu, Christian Lealiifano, and Jack Lam all experiencing injuries throughout the year, Funaki has stepped up. The Tongan international’s appearance among the top players in the competition on the stat sheets is a testament to his hard-work and dedication. Funaki will no doubt leave everything on the field in the hopes of leading his team to a much deserved victory at Allianz Stadium this Saturday.
Jonathan Taumateine (Nofoli’i & Satapuala) will start at halfback and has been a welcomed return to his side this year. After dealing with a lingering hamstring injury that kept him out for the first eight weeks of the competition, the Wesley College old boy brings a wealth of international and Super Rugby experience as well as his renowned toughness as a halfback.
Christian Lealiifano (Magiagi, Letogo, Le’auva’a) will suit up for the ninth time as the First-five for Moana Pasifika in 2023. In an offensive strategy employed by Coach Mauger that heavily revolves around the kicking game of Lealiifano, the ultimate professional will be fired up to lead his team to victory this Saturday.
Starting on the left wing, the tackle busting Fijian Timoci Tavatavanawai (Naikawaga, Namara, & Tailevu) is named to make his 12th appearance for Moana Pasifika. This season ‘Jimi the Jet’ has proven to be one of the hardest men in the competition to bring down, almost guaranteeing to get past his first defender. In the abundance of attacking stats that Tavatavanawai leads, perhaps the most impressive is the 23 post contact metres per game, showing how extensive his offensive impact is and how important the winger is to getting beyond the gain line and setting up his team.
At second-five, Henry Taefu (Samatau & Falelatai) remains in the starting line-up. The imposing inside centre has been a bruising hitman on defence, and has also grown his game as a facilitating pivot in the midfield, combining well with the fire-power outside him.
In his 23rd and final game for Moana Pasifika, Levi Aumua (Afega, Sapunaoa) will take the field in the number 13 jersey. Growing immensely as a player and a leader over his time with the team, Aumua has been a shining light for the organisation, and will carry the pride of Moana Pasifika in all his future endeavours.
Dangerous right winger Tima Fainga’anuku- Tongoleleka (Ha’apai), Tufuvai (‘Eua), Taunga (Vava’u) & Niuatoputapu (Tonga) will make his fourth consecutive start for Moana Pasifika this week. Stringing together a series of games in which he’s only gone from strength to strength, the Manawatū Turbos winger has brought x-factor for his team and has held his own in a star-studded backline.
The ever-consistent William Havili (Sopu Kolomatu’a)had his name up in lights and stood out as one of the best players on the field against the Drua. With many opportunities to back himself, the fullback made the most of each possession he had and came away with a well-deserved brace. His signature offensive and defensive kicking game was instrumental in plugging his team into the Drua corners, and the fullback will be looking to replicate his performance this week.
A very strong bench is headlined by the front row cover of Samiuela Moli (Te’ekiu – Tongatapu & Leimatu’a – Vava’u), Ezekiel Lindenmuth (Manono, Vaimoso, Moto’otua) and Chris Apoua (Salamumu, Fasito’outa). The three men in the engine room will likely take to the field early on in the second half and will definitely bring a physical edge to finish off the season.
Two of Moana Pasifika’s consistent starters and key forwards in Mike McKee (Titikaveka & Rarotonga) and Alamanda Motuga (Satoa, Sa’anapu) are set to come off the bench this week. The veteran duo will be an experienced addition to the game at Allianz Stadium, and will look to energise their team when they take the field.
Sticking to the theme of experience on the bench, the backs cover consists of Ereatara Enari (Nofoali’i, Vaiala), Lincoln McClutchie (Ngati Porou) and Fine Inisi (Falelatai). All players that have been a part of Moana Pasifika since its inauguration, these three have developed into fundamental members of Moana Pasifika’s on-field identity. All have the ability to break the game open when their services are required this weekend.
Moana Pasifika v NSW Waratahs
Saturday 3rd June, kick off 9:45pm NZT.
Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Unavailable due to injury: Sekope Kepu (achilles), Jack Lam (foot), Pita Anae Ah Sue (concussion), Ray Niuia (concussion), and Lotu Inisi (Shoulder).See all news