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Biggest threat for Moana Pasifika?: 'It's going to be the grind'

By Sam Smith
Ereatara Enari and Bryn Hall. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

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New Zealand’s newest Super Rugby franchise has a massive challenge ahead of them next year.

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Moana Pasifika were hamstrung by the late confirmation that the side would be accepted into Super Rugby Pacific for 2022 and as such, much of their player contracting had to be completed in a relatively compacted window.

Still, the squad is populated by a number of talented Pasifika players – including much of the backbone of the Hawke’s Bay side that went unbeaten throughout the regular NPC season, as well as some handy senior options including former Wallabies Christian Lealiifano and Sekope Kepu.

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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.
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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.

For many players in the team, however, next year’s competition will be their first taste of Super Rugby – which comes with a host of significant challenges.

Speaking on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Super Rugby centurions James Parsons and Bryn Hall acknowledged that the first season could be somewhat of a tough slog for Moana Pasifika.

“It will be a challenge,” said former All Black Parsons. “You’re starting a new club, it’s a new group. Yeah they’re all great as individuals in the systems they’re coming from but getting together and getting a bond and a greater purpose as that unit will take time.

“I don’t think there’s any need to put pressure on them but when I read through their squad [it’s] pretty impressive. I’ve been talking up [Neria] Fomai in the Magpies, Lolagi Visinia. A number of those Magpies players are massive.”

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In fact, no fewer than eight Magpies will feature for Moana Pasifika: Fomai, Visinia, Joe Apikotoa, Ereatara Enari, Solomone Funaki, Lincoln McClutchie, Danny Toala and Anzelo Tuitavuki.

While they, and the many other provincial representatives in the squad, have ample experience playing in a professional competition, the step up to Super Rugby level will be a big challenge, especially with the comparably lengthy season.

“You look at probably the first month of competitions, they’re gonna be upbeat and they’ve got a pretty good draw … they get to be at home for the first couple [of maches],” Hall said. “That kind of excitement and playing in a new competition, an inaugural championship, is going to be really exciting.

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“Depth is something we’ve talked about, which is going to be massive [but] it’s going to be the grind – the grind of having the long season. You get to that week 8, week 9, and being able to train at a high intensity, playing at a high intensity and playing really good teams consistently every single week, I think that’s going to be a real test for them, seeing how they are able to do that.

“The likes of Christian Lealiifano, Kepu as well, those boys [are going to be really important]. Those young fellas coming through, a lot of them have played in the Bunnings NPC. That campaign’s 10 weeks compared to another six or seven days in a much higher intensity, you can’t afford to slack off, especially if you have aspirations to make the play-offs. The experienced guys who have been in those environments and know what that looks like, I think that’s going to be really important.”

As the competition draws on, injuries will also be inevitable, and that’s when Parsons suggested Moana Pasifika might be vulnerable.

“If depth is tested, [the question is] probably ‘Who are the replacement players?’. That squad to me looks good, it’s not just the XV, I think it looks like a really competitive squad and a team that could do the damage but I suppose where are the replacement players coming from and what experience [do they have] and can they fill those gaps?”

Super Rugby Pacific is set to kick off in February.

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