Moana Pasifika coach Aaron Mauger has opted for the tried and tested for next year’s Super Rugby Pacific season, naming just one uncapped player in the squad for 2023.
That honor falls to Samoa-based loose forward Miracle Fai’ilagi, who was identified by Mauger and forwards coach Filo Tiatia at the World Rugby Pacific Combine recently held in Suva, Fiji.
Moana Pasifika’s coaching staff attended the combine with the intention of rewarding two players with training contracts for the 2023 pre-season but instead granted Fai’ilagi a permanent position for the upcoming campaign and handed out a further five pre-season contracts to Joe Perez, Faletoi Peni (both Samoa), Semisi Paea, Frank Mafi and Alosio Moa (all Tonga).
“Miracle is a natural leader who exudes humility, respect and tattoo (service),” said Mauger of the new recruit. “He has represented Samoa in rugby sevens so he has a solid fitness foundation, a high work rate and is hard-nosed. He isn’t afraid to put his head into dark places and he has a very high ceiling.
“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.”
Joining Fai’ilagi in the squad are Abraham Pole, D’Angelo Leuila, Mahonri Ngakuru and Michael Curry, who all featured for Moana Pasifika last year as injury call-ups but have now earned permanent contracts for the season ahead.
The squad includes 26 players with international experience for either Samoa or Tonga, with many featuring in the recent Autumn Nations Series. Australian representatives Sekope Kepu and Christian Lealiifano bring the international tally up to 28.
“We had a very inexperienced squad last year which was evidenced by the 32 young men who made their Super Rugby debuts,” Mauger said. “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 pre-season whereas last year we only had three weeks. This team harbors so much potential and all 39 contracted men deserve another opportunity to showcase their talent in an uninterrupted season.”
Moana Pasifika will begin their Super Rugby Pacific campaign on Saturday 25th February against the Fijian Drua.
“It’s a dream to play the Drua in our first game and at home,” Mauger said. “It will be a celebration of all things Pasifika and a wonderful way to start the competition.”
Mauger is also eyeing 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.”
2023 Moana Pasifika squad:
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.
– with Moana Pasifika