Moana Pasifika has assembled an exciting and consistent team for the 2023 DHL Super Rugby Pacific Season with 38 of the 39 contracted players capped during their inaugural year in the competition.
The squad boasts an impressive 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 Bunnings NPC form for Waikato this year.
“D’Angelo spent some time with us last year and we set him some challenges around earning a full contract and he rose to the challenge with yet another outstanding NPC Season. He’s an incredibly strong ball carrier, has a strong kicking game and sees space really well,” says Mauger.
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.
Ngakuru made five appearances for Moana Pasifika in their first season and adjusted to the environment well. Forwards Coach Leota Filo Tiatia was pleased with his assertiveness at lineout and willingness to learn. “His NPC form really caught our eye and you could see he actioned a lot of the challenges we gave him at the end of our season. I’m excited to see what he can achieve in his first full season,” says Tiatia.
Michael Curry’s addition in to the 2023 squad was a no-brainer for Head Coach Aaron Mauger. “I was really impressed with Mike. He came in to our team as a replacement last year and made such an impression on and off the field with his work ethic and his ability to learn fast. It wasn’t long before he established himself consistently in our gameday 23,” says Mauger.
Cohesion and building on the foundations made in the first season of Super Rugby was an important factor when determining the 2023 Moana Pasifika squad for Aaron Mauger.
“We had a very inexperienced squad last year which was evidenced by the 32 young men who made their Super Rugby debuts. In the past 12 months we have seen a lot of maturing and development in our players, and you only get that with playing at a high level.”
“This year we get an opportunity to go through a full preseason whereas last year we only had three weeks. This team harbours so much potential and all 39 contracted men deserve another opportunity to showcase their talent in an uninterrupted season,” says Mauger.
Moana Pasifika begin their 2023 DHL 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 DHL Super Rugby Pacific 2023 Squad
(Name, Moana Pasifika caps, village and/or iwi).
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)
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)See all news