After Major League Rugby officials revealed the success of an expansion bid from Kanaloa Hawaii to join the league for the 2021 season, it has since emerged that the latest newcomers to the American ruby scene are back-up by a plethora of former All Blacks. 

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According to a story on djcoilrugby.com, ex-New Zealand team players Anthony Tuitavake, Ben Atiga, Jerome Kaino, Joe Rokocoko and John Afoa have all clubbed together with friends and business associates Matt Atiga, Tracy Atiga and Cam Kilgour to found the first Maori and Polynesian owned and operated professional rugby club in the world. 

Known as the Mercury Group, the new club’s ownership team – who are based in Europe, New Zealand and the UK – are said to have given back to the wider Maori and Polynesian community through free community rugby clinics and voluntary service to the development of club, provincial and international rugby.

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This includes coaching clinics delivered in Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Tahiti. Now they are taking that commitment to another level by the setting-up of a professional rugby franchise in Hawaii, an area of America not traditionally associated with professional sports. 

A letter written by club CEO Tracy Atiga stated: “By taking on the responsibility of a club, the owners can provide direct solutions to challenges that Maori and Pasifika players face in the rugby industry. 

“The owners have pledged to lead through a Polynesian village ethos based on servant leadership principles that are guided by the organisation’s values of faith and family. The ownership team is excited to have secured a spot in the MLR and have already set their sights on making a bid to participate in the Oceania based Super Rugby competition and other global competitions moving forward.

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“Kanaloa Hawaii Rugby wishes to acknowledge and express sincere gratitude to the MLR, Hawaii Rugby Union, and various local organisations that have offered support and partnership opportunities to get the venture off the ground.”

Having had their initial application accepted by MLR HQ in Dallas, Kanaloa Hawaii now have 90 days to finalise terms and meet the necessary benchmarks before their membership is formally ratified ahead of the 2021 season. 

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