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Controversial ex-Rebels star returns to Super Rugby despite assault charges

By Online Editors
Former Rebels star Amanaki Mafi. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

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Controversial ex-Rebels star Amanaki Mafi has been signed by the Sunwolves despite ongoing legal issues regarding his assault charge in New Zealand.

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The Japanese franchise announced their acquisition of the 29-year-old on their social media channels earlier this week, although the length of the deal was not disclosed.

The move comes as legal proceedings in New Zealand have been delayed following an incident last July where Mafi was charged with assaulting then-teammate Lopeti Timani in Dunedin after their season-ending defeat to the Highlanders.

Both players were consequently fined upwards of A$15,000 and released from their contracts with the Rebels, with Timani instead departing to France to join La Rochelle in the Top 14, while Mafi – who pleaded not guilty – returned to the Japanese Top League with NTT Communications Shining Arcs.

The 22-test loose forward was initially barred from all team activities upon his arrival back at the Japanese club, but was made eligible to play in November after releasing a letter of apology to the team, where he explained the incident and outlined his intentions to regain the trust of all those involved, including fans.

His return to top-level rugby continued last week when he was named in a World Cup training squad by Japan head coach Jamie Joseph.

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With a reputation as an explosive ball carrier, Mafi was named Australian Super Rugby Player of the Year in 2017 in his debut campaign with the Rebels following a string of outstanding showings with ball in hand, which saw him finish the season with third-most carries (196), eighth-most offloads (24), and 10th for metres gained (990) in the competition.

He backed that up with another sensational display for the Melbourne-based club last year, where he was first for ball carries (253) and fourth for metres gained (1345).

Mafi joins a Sunwolves side that has just returned to Tokyo off the back of their successful tour to New Zealand, where they claimed their first-ever win outside of Japan, beating the Chiefs 30-15 in Hamilton.

The Tony Brown-coached franchise followed that up with a narrow 28-20 loss at the hands of an emotionally-charged Blues side, and are now set to face the Reds at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium this weekend, where Mafi could make his debut for the club.

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