Moana Pasifika has secured the services of Manu Samoa midfielder, Henry Taefu, for the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific Season. After an impressive showing for Moana Pasifika in 2022, Taefu has continued his fine form in to the Bunnings NPC for North Harbour with two tries, five defenders beaten and 47 metres made post-contact.
Head Coach Aaron Mauger is delighted to have the 29-year-old back at Mount Smart Stadium. “Henry is an absolute quality man and an outstanding leader for us. He is a person of high integrity and demands the best of the people around him whilst delivering those standards consistently himself, both on and off the field. He is key to our continued growth as we head in to our second season,” says Mauger.
The Samoa-born second five-eighth made eight appearances for Moana Pasifika in 2022 and is eager to pull on the jersey for another season. “I’m looking forward to getting back to work with my Moana aiga. We embarked on a special journey this year and i’m really excited to be back in 2023 and add onto what we have built this season,” says Taefu.
“This team means a lot to me and as a young boy who grew up in Samoa, I hope we can inspire the next generation of Pasifika boys and girls to chase their dream.”
Taefu joins fellow North Harbour teammates, Lotu & Fine Inisi, in the squad for 2023.
The brothers, whom have both represented the ‘Ikale Tahi in 15’s and 7’s, have Tongan roots in Longoteme (Tongatapu), Fangale’ounga (Ha’apai) and Samoan ancestry from the village of Falelatai.
At 24-years-old, Fine is the eldest of the two and is proud to play alongside his younger brother. “It means everything to be able to pursue our dream together. I’m really proud of Lotu and it’s really special to have played junior rugby together and progress all the way to Super Rugby,” says Fine.
Mauger was impressed with Fine Inisi’s efforts in the 2022 season. “Fine was a real find in our debut season and performed equally as well on the wing and at centre. He has a great intuitive feel for the game. We’re extremely excited to see where we can take Fine’s game in 2023 now that he understands the demands of the game and also how he can impact the game more with his rounded skillset.”
Dynamic loose forward Lotu Inisi sustained an ankle injury in the process of scoring a try in the ‘Ofa Atu Tonga’ preseason fundraiser against the Gallagher Chiefs, where Moana Pasifika raised $75,000 for Tongan relief efforts. The 23-year-old eventually made his Super Rugby Pacific debut in Moana Pasifika’s final match of the season against the Brumbies, scoring the winning try at the end of the match.
“We’re really excited about the raw ingredients of Lotu and what he can bring to the game. He is a powerful athlete who has the ability to cause some real damage into and through the collision,” says Mauger.
“He and Fine will have another years’ experience behind them learning and understanding what it takes to be a good professional we expect that Lotu will step up and push for a spot in our top loose forward mix in 2023.”
There will be healthy competition in the loose forward department in 2023, with ‘Ikale Tahi enforcer Solomone Funaki and Manu Samoa back-rower Alamanda Motuga also re-signed for next season.
Motuga made his Super Rugby Pacific debut in 2022 and was impressive in the Number 7 jersey. With 11 turnovers, 83 tackles and one try in just 8 games, and a dominant physical presence, Motuga was awarded the Savae La’auli Sir Michael Jones Forward of the Year Cup at the inaugural Moana Pasifika Awards Night.
The Counties Manukau Steelers flanker won three prestigious awards. He was also voted by his peers as the Players Player. This is awarded to a player that embodies everything a teammate should be, both on and off the field, having earned the respect and trust of those around him.
In addition, Motuga also received the Niu Award for Rookie of the Year. The player must be in their first year of Super Rugby and is voted by the players and management of the team. The person is selected for their ability to adapt to the demands of Super Rugby through outstanding levels of self-leadership, discipline, and professionalism.
Solomone Funaki received the Tangaloa Award for the best defensive player in his debut Super Rugby Pacific season. Tangaloa is the caretaker of the Pacific Ocean, known for his strength, his vastness, his power and unwavering will. He represents Moana Pasifika’s aspirations on defence as an uncompromising defender. Funaki won 8 turnovers this year, made 102 tackles and scored 4 tries.
Funaki was recognised for his exceptional leadership qualities during the ‘Ikale Tahi Pacific Nations Cup Campaign and was honoured with Vice Captaincy duties. The 28 year old was a stand out player in Tonga’s most recent match which saw his team qualify for the Rugby World Cup 2023, defeating Hong Kong 44-22 to clinch the final spot in Pool B.
Blockbusting centre Levi Aumua will also return to Mount Smart Stadium in 2023. The midfielder, with both Samoan and Fijian ancestral ties, was popular among Moana Pasifika fans in the inaugural season and collected the largest number of Most Valuable Player points to be named the Fans Player of the Year. The midfielder was the clear winner in an impressive season which saw him beat 38 defenders, amass 124 contact metres and score 3 tries.
Head Coach Aaron Mauger is pleased that Levi Aumua has recommitted to his squad. “As a coaching group, we thought Levi took his game to new levels in Super Rugby Pacific this season. He worked hard to get himself into top condition and he was rewarded on the field by being able to perform at an intensity which created real chaos for his opposition.”
Mauger has also been impressed with his recent form for the Tasman Mako in the Bunnings NPC. “Having Levi back in good shape for 2023 means we have some real firepower to strike with once again.”
The 27-year-old explained that he felt at home in the Moana Pasifika environment. “I really enjoyed my first year with Moana Pasifika. I love the team culture and feel we are more like a family than anything else.”
“We finished our season with a great win over the Brumbies at home and showed everyone what we are capable of. I’m excited to see how we can build on that performance and light up the competition in 2023.”See all news