There’s a reason why Moana Pasifika delayed their Super Rugby squad release almost a month after New Zealand’s five other franchises did.
The team is staying true to it’s roots, finding and securing the best players straight from the Pacific Islands rather than filling their roster with New Zealand based players.
“We don’t name a team of players we announce our people, when we announce our people we announce our names, our family names, villages and our nations and that’s what is most important,” coach Aaron Mauger told media.
One of those villages represented in the Moana Pasifika 2023 squad is Vailele in Samoa, where 23-year-old Miracle Fai’ilagi hails from.
Fai’ilagi is the first player to sign with the Super Rugby franchise straight from Samoan club rugby.
“Signing for Moana is something big us local players we hardly get these opportunities. The Moana Pasifika coach gave me a call and giving me news that I just made the team, I’m just so out of words,” Fai’ilagi said.
The former Samoan sevens representative impressed Mauger and his coaching staff at a World Rugby combine in Fiji.
"He's an outstanding athlete he has some real raw athletic ability great work ethic i think that been installed in the sevens program as well," Mauger said.
Fai’ilagi is the only player from the combine to receive a full contract but five other players based in the Pacific Islands will join the squad for pre-season training.
Moana Pasifika was created to enhance pathways to Super Rugby and give Pacific Island players an opportunity to showcase their talent, and already in just their second season they’re bringing in a new crop of talent.
“It's really exciting, it's visible for our young aspiring players and in the islands they too can become Super Rugby players," Mauger said.
This the first step in recruiting more players directly from the islands, with the hopes of the franchise one day creating their own pathway.
“Developing our own pathway here so we really grateful for the vehicle of world rugby ideally that will be us in time running our own combines up in Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands and drawing our young players in," Mauger said.
"For us Moana Pasifika becomes a team of young aspiring rugby players, I think growing up in the New Zealand system for a lot of players, a lot of these boys have seen this pathway. Now we are showing them something real that they can be a part of representing their nations through Moana Pasifika,” Mauger said.
Moana Pasifika Squad 2023
Forwards: Abraham Pole, Alamanda Motuga, Alex McRobbie, Chris Apoua, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Isi Tu'ungafasi, Jack Lam, Joe 'Apikotoa, Lotu Inisi, Luteru Tolai, Mahonri Ngakuru, Michael Curry, Mike McKee, Miracle Fai'ilagi, Penitoa Finau, Ray Niuia, Samiuela Moli, Samuel Slade, Sekope Kepu, Sione Tu'ipulotu, Solomone Funaki, Taukiha'amea Koloamatangi.
Backs: Anzelo Tuitavuki, Christian Leali'ifano, D'Angelo Leuila, Danny Toala, Ereatara Enari, Fine Inisi, Henry Taefu, Jonathan Taumateine, Levi Aumua, Lincoln McClutchie, Lolagi Visinia, Manu Paea, Neria Foma'i, Tima Fainga'anuku, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Tomasi Alosio, William Havili.
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).