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Moana Pasifika close to finalising squad with four further signings

By Alex McLeod
Photo: Andrew Skinner / www.photosport.nz

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Moana Pasifika are close to finalising their inaugural Super Rugby Pacific squad after announcing four new signings over the past three days.

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The new expansion franchise confirmed the arrival of New Zealand U20 halfback Manu Paea on Friday in an announcement that comes just days after the acquisitions of Tasman duo Samiuela Moli and William Havili, as well as Bay of Plenty loose forward Penitoa Finau.

That leaves Moana Pasifika with just two spots remaining in its 38-man squad, with the final two players of its first-ever Super Rugby playing squad, and its coaching and management staff, expected to be announced in the coming days.

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At just 20 years of age, Paea will be among the youngest players at the franchise next year and joins Moana Pasifika with no first-class rugby experience to his name.

This is in spite of the fact that Paea, who can play anywhere in the backline, joined Northland as injury cover during this year’s NPC, campaign, but failed to take to the field at all for the Taniwha.

However, the former New Zealand Schools star was part of Tabai Matson’s New Zealand U20 squad that played a Wellington XV, a Harlequins XV, a Tasman Mako XV and the Cook Islands between June and July.

Paea will compete with former Crusaders halfback Ereatara Enari and Manu Samoa star Jonathan Taumateine for the squad’s No 9 role.

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Elsewhere, Moli joins a strong cohort of Tongan internationals in the Moana Pasifika set-up after having made his debut for the ‘Ikale Tahi against the All Blacks in July.

The 22-year-old hooker, who is the younger brother of All Blacks and Chiefs prop Atu, started in his side’s 102-0 annihilation at the hands of New Zealand in Auckland.

He went on to start in two further World Cup qualifying tests against Manu Samoa and the Cook Islands later that month, and becomes the sixth capped Tongan player to sign for Moana Pasifika after Solomone Kata, Solomone Funaki, Sione Tu’ipulotu, Fine Inisi and Don Lolo.

Bringing title-winning experiences with him to the franchise after helping guide the Mako to the 2019 and 2020 NPC crowns, Moli will compete for starting roles with ex-Blues duo Ray Niuia and Luteru Tolai at Moana Pasifika.

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Part of a small yet prominent Mako contingent in head coach Aaron Mauger’s squad, Moli will be joined by provincial teammate Havili at Mt Smart Stadium next year.

The 23-year-old outside back, who is the younger brother of All Blacks and Crusaders utility back David, is one of five Tasman players – alongside Moli, prop Isi Tu’ungafasi, midfielder Levi Aumua and wing Timoci Tavatavanawai – at the franchise.

After making his provincial debut for the Mako in a one-off appearance in 2018, Havili, who is of Tongan descent, was included in this year’s Tasman squad as a development player.

Since then, he has featured three times this season, twice from fullback and once off the bench, and is likely to compete with former Samoan sevens star Tomasi Alosio and ex-Hurricanes and Blues flyer Lolagi Visinia for the No 15 jersey.

In the loose forwards, Finau provides Moana Pasifika with depth in their well-stocked back row, which already features four Manu Samoa internationals and two ‘Ikale Tahi players.

Capable of playing all three loose forward positions, the 27-year-old has garnered plenty of experience both in New Zealand, with Bay of Plenty and Counties Manukau, as well as in Portugal.

It was in Europe where Finau spent a number of years following significant injuries during his time with the Steelers, before returning to New Zealand to sign with the Steamers this season.

The Hurricanes, meanwhile, announced the signing of former Highlanders midfielder Teihorangi Walden on Thursday as the Wellington-based franchise looks to fill the voids left by Ngani Laumape and Danny Toala, who has joined Moana Pasifika.

Confirmed Moana Pasifika signings for 2022 Super Rugby Pacific

Props: Joe Apikotoa (Chiefs), Sekope Kepu (Counties Manukau), Tau Koloamatangi (Otago), Ezekiel Lindenmuth (Counties Manukau), Isi Tu’ungafasi (Crusaders)

Hookers: Samiuela Moli (Tasman), Ray Niuia (Blues), Luteru Tolai (Blues)

Locks: Don Lolo (Taieri), Mike McKee (Southland), Alex McRobbie (Counties Manukau), Veikoso Poloniati (Manawatu)

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

Halfbacks: Ereatara Enari (Crusaders), Manu Paea (Northland), Jonathan Taumateine (Hurricanes)

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

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

Outside Backs: Tomasi Alosio (Wellington), Neria Foma’i (Hawke’s Bay), William Havili (Tasman), Solomone Kata (Brumbies), Timoci Tavatavanawai (Tasman), Azelo Tuitavuki (Hawke’s Bay), Lolagi Visinia (Hurricanes)

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