Two Tongan players have already indicated their interest in suiting up for Moana Pasifika just days after it was announced the franchise would be inducted into a new professional competition next year.
New Zealand Rugby announced on Wednesday that Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua had been granted conditional licences to compete in a new professional competition that will feature the 10 New Zealand and Australian Super Rugby franchises from next year onwards.
The final sign-off for both teams’ licences, which is dependent on their final business plans and Rugby Australia’s support, is expected by the end of June.
However, Tonga Rugby Union chief executive Peter Harding has revealed he has already fielded calls from two Tongan internationals who are eager to play for Moana Pasifika in 2022.
“I’ve had two contact me overnight. One through an agent. They’re very interested,” Harding told RNZ from Nuku’alofa.
“Both of the players – I can’t tell you who they are – but they will most likely be in the [World Cup] squad for 2023 and they’re both pretty excited about the fact that playing for a Polynesian team is something they aspire to.”
Harding’s revelations come a day after the Fiji Rugby Union [FRU] confirmed to RNZ that a number of Fijian players who have represented other countries have expressed interest in playing for the Fijian Drua.
FRU chief executive John O’Connor also said a number of the country’s top sevens players have opted against pursuing professional contracts abroad in the hope of playing for the Suva-based franchise.
“They’ve indicated now that they would like to play for sevens and then switch over [to the Fijian Drua], so it’s already starting. Players we would have lost after the Olympics now have the opportunity to stay back and switch to fifteens,” O’Connor said.
He added: “We’ve already identified talents that we will sign locally and most of them are already Flying Fijians and playing domestically, locally. Now we will engage other players.
“Our early discussions they were all around having about 16 overseas based players and 16 local based players.”
FRU high-performance manager and former Flying Fijians captain Simon Raiwalu said the 37-man Fijian Drua squad will be announced in June.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 16, 2021
Harding and O’Connor both shared their excitement around the prospect of a professional pathway for homegrown players who can now become professionals without having to leave the Pacific Islands.
“It’s about time we actually got opportunities for Tongans and Samoans, Polynesian players, to play for a team that represents what they represent as well,” Harding told RNZ.
“We’re very very enthusiastic about it and we’re looking forward to the team and the club, or the franchise, contributing to our pathway anyway it can.”
O’Connor said: “Every kid now who wakes up tomorrow has a new dream: to be part of the Fijian Drua and to play professional rugby at home and not leave their families and go to a different environment.
“It’s not only a dream for our players, it’s a dream for the match officials, coaches and so-forth – it’s a total pathway for us which has been missing for long.”
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