Solomone Funaki wins big at Moana Pasifika’s award evening

Moana Pasifika’s annual awards evening was held on Tuesday night with a boisterous event, full of gratitude for their second season in DHL Super Rugby Pacific and a large sense of excitement for what lies ahead. The team collected their first historic away win over the Waratahs on Saturday, ending their difficult season on a high. 

The supreme award of the night, the Moana Man, presented by departing Head Coach Aaron Mauger was awarded to Solomone Funaki in a season which saw him step up intocaptaincy with maiden skipper Sekope Kepu out for the season. 

The winner is considered a leader in every way, a trusted teammate, speaks with his actions by preparing and performing at the highest standards of excellence and demands excellence from his peers. A Moana Man is always prepared to do what is best for the team, the club and the people of the Pacific. Funaki was the clear choice as his leadership, positivity, and influence on the growth of the team and the Pasifika people stands out above all others in the 2023 season.

In a season where he finished the regular season as the competition’s fourth best tackler with 173 (95% success rate) in 13 games, made 129 tackles, won 11 turnovers, scored 3 tries and carried the ball 141 metres past contact, it is no wonder Funaki also collected three other awards: the Tangaloa Award for Best Defender, the Savae La’auli Sir Michael Jones Forward of the Year and the Players Player of the Year

The Players Player of the Year is awarded to a player that embodies everything a teammate should be, both on and off the field, having earnt the respect and trust of those around him. In Pasifika folklore, Tangaloa is the caretaker of the Pacific Ocean, is known for his strength, his vastness, his power and unwavering will. He represents Moana Pasifika’s aspirations on defence as an uncompromising defender.

Another big winner was electric winger Timoci Tavatavanawai. The Fijian-born flyer finished the competition with 55 defenders beaten, 14 clean breaks, 690 metres and 227 post-contact metres, putting him in the top 10 in all categories across the competition. 

Tavatavanawai, affectionately known as ‘Jimmy the Jet’, received the Maui award for the Best Attacking Player of the Year. Maui is a Pasifika Demi-God, known for his attacking genius, innovation, swiftness, agility, and quick mind. Maui represents Moana Pasifika’s offensive aspirations.

He also collected the Fans Player of the Year Award. Moana Pasifika has a fierce and loyal fan base across the world. Each week, fans are asked to vote for the Most Valuable Player after each match. The votes across all 14 games were tallied and the blockbusting winger edged out his peers to claim the award.

Departing midfielder Levi Aumua was recognized for his heroics throughout his two seasons with Moana Pasifika and was selected as the recipient of the Tuifa’asisina Sir Bryan Williams Cup for Back of the Year. The devastating ball carrier had 59 defenders beaten, 126 carries, 28 offloads, 16 clean breaks and 255 post-contact metres, dominating the competition and the standout midfielder across Super Rugby. 

The feel-good story of the year, Miracle Faiilagi, received the Niu Award for Rookie of the Year. The Samoan-born talent scored five tries in his debut season and set stadiums alight in New Zealand, Australia and his beloved Samoa. 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.

A new award was introduced to the Moana Pasifika awards evening with the establishing of the Moana Pasifika Under 20s team earlier in the year. Head Coach Gus Leger and his management team of Nili Latu, Shalom Senara, Doug Sanft & Mataafa Ramsey Tomokinodecided John Samuelu would be gifted with the inaugural Moana Pasifika Under 20s Player of the Year. Samuelu was unable to be present at the awards evening as he is currently in camp with the Samoa Under 20s team in Apia. 

There were two other important awards presented for off-field contributions. All players are encouraged to work on their own growth and holistic development off the field during their professional playing careers. This helps them to prepare for their next chapter post-rugby and it helps provide an important balance in their life away from the field. Samuel Slade was the recipient of the Galue award for completing his studies.

Finally, the Tautua award was presented to Christian Lealiifano to acknowledge and celebrate the outstanding services to the team and the organization. The spirit and the essence of tautua is ‘leadership through service’ and this award honours the recipient for their selfless contribution voted by Coaches and Management.

Moana Pasifika Awards

Moana Man of the Year – Solomone Funaki

Players Player of the Year – Solomone Funaki

Savae La’auli Sir Michael Jones Trophy for Forward of the Year – Solomone Funaki

Tuifa’asisina Sir Bryan Williams for Back of the Year – Levi Aumua

Fans Player of the Year – Timoci Tavatavanawai

Niu Award for Rookie of the Year – Miracle Faiilagi

Maui Award for Attacking Player of the Year – Timoci Tavatavanawai

Tangaloa Award for Defensive Player of the Year – Solomone Funaki

Moana Pasifika Under 20s Player of the Year – John Samuelu

Tautua Award – Christian Lealiifano

Galue Award – Samuel Slade

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