Moana Pasifika confirm final signing to complete inaugural Super Rugby squad
A former member of the Crusaders and Highlanders, Fainga’anuku has two seasons of Super Rugby experience to his name and has also spent time abroad playing for Perpignan in France’s Top 14 between 2018 and 2019.
Within New Zealand, the 24-year-old brother of Crusaders star Leicester has established himself as a powerful speedster who won two NPC titles with Tasman during his five-year spell at the province before linking up with the Turbos this season.
However, it’s with Tonga where his international ambitions appear to lie as it was announced he would play sevens for his nations of birth at the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament in Monaco earlier this year.
Covid-19 travel restrictions prevented Fainga’anuku from making the switch, though, meaning he remains tied to New Zealand, but his intent on pledging his allegiance to Tonga is promising for the Pacific Island nation.
That much is reflected by his commitment to Moana Pasifika, with their roster now full ahead of the expansion franchise’s debut campaign in the revamped edition of Super Rugby.
Fainga’anuku will compete for places in Moana Pasifika’s outside back trio with the likes of Tasman speedster Timoci Tavatavanawai, ex-Brumbies and NRL star Solomone Kata and former Blues and Hurricanes flyer Lolagi Visinia.
Others in the Moana Pasifika squad who played in this year’s Super Rugby include ex-Crusaders pair Ere Enari and Isi Tuungafasi, former Blues duo Ray Niuia and Luteru Tolai, ex-Chiefs prop Ezekiel Lindenmuth and former Western Force midfielder Henry Taefu.
None, however, boast the starpower of ex-Wallabies stars Christian Lealiifano and Sekope Kepu.
Lealiifano, a 26-test first-five who last played for Australia at the 2019 World Cup, was announced as the franchise’s first-ever signings last month, and joins from the NTT Communications Shining Arcs in Japan.
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Next year’s season-opener between Moana Pasifika and the Brumbies at Mt Smart Stadium will pit Lealiifano against his former side, who he made 150 appearances for between 2007 and 2019.
The 34-year-old has competition for the No 10 jersey, though, as Hawke’s Bay star Lincoln McClutchie headlines the seven Magpies players in the Moana Pasifika squad due to his status as one of the most promising prospects in New Zealand.
Kepu, meanwhile, is a 110-test veteran of three World Cups who links up with Moana Pasifika from Counties Manukau.
Like Lealiifano, Kepu is no stranger to Super Rugby, after having made 141 appearances for the Waratahs, with whom he won the 2014 title.
All in all, the squad features nine Manu Samoa players, five ‘Ikale Tahi representatives, two former Wallabies and a Hong Kong international in the form of prop Tau Koloamatangi.
The squad, which will be led by head coach Aaron Mauger and his assistant Filo Tiatia, also has players of Fijian, Cook Island, Niuean and Maori heritage.
Moana Pasifika will kick-off its 2022 campaign against the Brumbies at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on February 18.
2022 Moana Pasifika squad
Hookers: Ray Niuia, Sam Moli, Luteru Tolai
Locks: Don Lolo, Mike McKee, Veikoso Poliniati, Alex McRobbie
Halfbacks: Ereatara Enari, Jonathan Taumateine, Manu Paea
First-fives: Christian Lealifano, Lincoln McClutchie, William Havili
Midfield: Levi Aumua, Danny Toala, Henry Taefu, Fine Inisi
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