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Moana Pasifika add Hong Kong and Manu Samoa internationals to squad

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

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Moana Pasifika’s off-season recruitment remains in full swing as the expansion franchise has announced the arrival of two hookers to their inaugural Super Rugby Pacific squad.

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The Auckland-based side confirmed on Friday that Manu Samoa rake Ray Niuia join the squad from cross-town rivals, the Blues.

Niuia, who has played 10 tests for Samoa since 2018 and featured at the 2019 World Cup in Japan, was part of the Blues side that won the makeshift Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title this year, helping end the franchise’s 18-year wait for a trophy.

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The 30-year-old previously played for the Highlanders in 2019 and will bring eight years’ worth of NPC experience with him to Moana Pasifika after having played for North Harbour, Tasman and current side Manawatu since 2013.

Niuia will be joined at Mt Smart Stadium next year by fellow hooker Luteru Tolai, who becomes the second player of Cook Island heritage to join the franchise after Southland lock Mike McKee was unveiled by Moana Pasifika earlier this week.

Also of Samoan background, Tolai has played for North Harbour in the NPC since 2018 and made his Super Rugby debut for the Blues against the Stormers in Cape Town last March.

The 23-year-old went on to play a further four matches for the Blues throughout the pre-and-post-Covid iterations of Super Rugby last year and made six appearances in this year’s edition of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

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Niuia and Tolai become the first hookers to sign with Moana Pasifika, and their announcements come a day after it was confirmed that the team had acquired the services of Tongan props Tau Koloamatangi and Isi Tu’ungafasi for next year.

An U20 World Championship title-winner with New Zealand in 2015, Koloamatangi was named on the ‘Ikale Tahi bench for their test against the All Blacks in July, but was dropped from the team on the eve of the match due to his solitary test appearance for Hong Kong two years ago.

The 26-year-old’s brief international stint with the Asian minnows came after he left New Zealand in 2016 following two seasons with Waikato to play for Valley in the Hong Kong Premiership and the South China Tigers in the now-defunct Global Rapid Rugby.

Qualifying for Hong Kong on residency grounds, Koloamatangi – who can play on either side of the scrum – started at tighthead in his test debut for the Dragons in a 36-17 win over Belgium in November 2019.

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That proved to be his only test appearance for Hong Kong, but Tongan officials said in July that they were hopeful that World Rugby will denounce his test cap as they believe he had not properly qualified for the Dragons on residency grounds.

Since his sudden axing from the Tongan national squad prior to their 102-0 drubbing at the hands of the All Blacks, Koloamatangi has joined Otago in the NPC, and has played six times for the province this season.

Tu’ungafasi, meanwhile, joins Moana Pasifika from the Crusaders, the side of which he has won three Super Rugby and Super Rugby Aotearoa titles with since joining the Christchurch-based franchise in 2019.

The Nuku’alofa-born 26-year-old brother of All Blacks star Ofa was a teammate of Koloamatangi’s in the 2015 New Zealand U20 side and won an NPC title with Tasman in his first season with the Mako last year.

Prior to that, he made his NPC debut with Auckland in 2015 before relocating to Northland for the 2018 and 2019 domestic seasons.

Confirmed Moana Pasifika signings for 2022 Super Rugby Pacific

Props: Sekope Kepu (Counties Manukau), Tau Koloamatangi (Otago), Isi Tu’ungafasi (Crusaders)

Hookers: Ray Niuia (Blues), Luteru Tolai (Blues)

Locks: Don Lolo (Taieri), Mike McKee (Southland), Veikoso Poloniati (Manawatu)

Loose Forwards: Solomone Funaki (Hawke’s Bay), Lotu Inisi (North Harbour), Jack Lam (Waikato), Alamanda Motuga (Counties Manukau), Henry Time-Stowers (Canterbury), Sione Tu’ipulotu (Auckland)

Halfbacks: Ereatara Enari (Crusaders)

First-Fives: Christian Leali’ifano (NTT Communications Shining Arcs), Lincoln McClutchie (Hawke’s Bay)

Midfielders: Fine Inisi (North Harbour), Henry Taefu (Western Force), Danny Toala (Hurricanes)

Outside Backs: Tomasi Alosio (Wellington), Neria Foma’i (Hawke’s Bay), Timoci Tavatavanawai (Tasman), Lolagi Visinia (Hurricanes)

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