Earlier this week it was revealed that a new team based out of Hawaii had put forward a bid to join America’s Major League Rugby competition from next year. Kanaloa Hawaii’s chief executive has confirmed that the side partially bankrolled by a number of former All Blacks is also in contention to join a potential Super Rugby replacement.
Joe Rokocoko, John Afoa, Ben Atiga, Benson Stanley, Jerome Kaino and Anthony Tuitavake – who have all represented the Blues and the All Blacks at times during their considerable professional careers have jointly invested in the Hawaiian team in order to create a new pathway for Pacific and Maori players.
CEO Tracey Atiga has now suggested that while the team is gunning to be the 16th Major League Rugby side for 2021, a spot in a trans-Tasman competition is also not off the table.
“The sky is the limit now. We’ve done the impossible,” Atiga told New Zealand show Tagata Pasifika.
“We went through a COVID period of four months and put together an application that was strong and that was approved by the MLR.
“We’re in conversations with NZ Rugby at the moment. We’d love to have a spot in Super next year and we’re ready for it. We’ve proven that we’re ready.”
The leaked results from the Aratipu report, which was commissioned to assess the future of domestic and international club rugby in New Zealand, allegedly suggest that NZR are weighing up whether to include a Pacific Island side in any future competitions. Speculation was that Fiji would be the base of operations for any such team, given their relative strength and economy compared to the other Pacific nations, but Atiga’s comments suggest that the new Hawaiian side could be another option for NZ to explore.
“It was very easy to get them on board,” Atiga said of the six former All Blacks who were backing the new team. “They’ve seen what we’ve done together and believe in the journey.
“Sixteen years ago we went into an old business plan that we wrote when we developed this concept. It’s gone through various phases but essentially we had a little KPI in there that said eventually we’ll have a Pacific Island owned rugby club.
“It’s significant not only for Pacific Island players but for the community itself. The movement behind it is really about inspiring our community to understand that we can do whatever we feel we need to do.”
Polynesian players have spoken in the past about the various unique hurdles they’ve faced during their careers, not limited to being forced into choosing to play for a wealthy club and earning enough money to support their families, or being able to play for their national teams.
83-cap All Black Kaino, who was born in Samoa, said that the goal of Kanaloa Hawaii is to even the playing field between Pacific Islanders and players from wealthier nations.
Allowing Australia just two teams in a trans-Tasman competition may be a bit harsh, but why would anyone think all five sides deserve to play alongside their considerably stronger Kiwi rivals, asks @TomVinicombe. #SuperRugbyAotearoa #SuperRugbyAUhttps://t.co/WknQKmIATb
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 11, 2020
“The impact we have on people back home is enormous and you end up finding out that rugby is more than just a game,” Kaino said in a video posted to Instagram by Ben Atiga.
“The people making decisions and the people giving us the opportunities have the same values as they have and the same village-type style ethos that we all grew up within a Polynesian background. That’s what it means to us to be able to create a legacy and create something special to be able to pass on to the next generation of rugby superstars.”
While it’s still early days in the Kanaloa story, it’s a promising development in the rugby world. Hawaii blends the flavour of the Pacific Islands with the sporting market of America, opening the door to greater investment and creating a pathway for potential players who may have previously had none.
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