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Moana Pasifika lock in Mt Smart Stadium as home venue until 2028

By Alex McLeod

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Moana Pasifika won’t be based in Samoa or Tonga on a permanent basis for at least another seven years after it was announced on Tuesday that the Super Rugby Pacific expansion franchise will play out of Mt Smart Stadium until 2028.

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The New Zealand Rugby [NZR]-backed side, which joins the Fijian Drua as the two new Pacific-based teams set to join the revamped competition next year, has confirmed it will play its home games at the Penrose-based stadium in its inaugural seven seasons.

The ground has largely been out of use since the end of 2019, with its main tenants, the Warriors, having been forced to play the last two NRL seasons in Australia due to Covid-19 travel and quarantine restrictions.

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In their absence, the All Blacks staged its first-ever test match at Mt Smart Stadium in July this year as they thrashed an understrength Tongan side 102-0 as part of a double-header that also featured the Maori All Blacks and Manu Samoa.

The event acted as the first major sporting event to be held at the stadium since August 2019, when the Warriors lost to the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the penultimate round of that year’s NRL regular season.

A week after the double-header, Manu Samoa returned to the venue to play Tonga in the first of their two-legged World Cup qualification series.

It was confirmed earlier this month that the Warriors will spend a third consecutive season based in Australia, where they will play their home games at Redcliffe in Queensland during the 2022 NRL campaign.

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While the club hopes to play up to half their home games in Auckland next year, the unpredictable and volatile nature of the pandemic means the likelihood of the Warriors playing in New Zealand next season is far from certain.

That had left Mt Smart Stadium without a tenant for the foreseeable future, but Moana Pasifika has since pounced on the opportunity to establish themselves in one of Auckland’s southern suburbs for their debut season in Super Rugby Pacific.

“Moana Pasifika has signed agreements with Auckland Unlimited to call the ground’s training facility and 25,000-capacity stadium ‘home’ for the new team from 2022-2028,” a statement from Moana Pasifika read.

Just how Moana Pasifika and the Warriors will coexist at Mt Smart Stadium once the latter side eventually returns from Australia on a full-time basis remains to be seen, but it does eliminate the possibility of the former side being based out of the Pacific Islands for the next seven years.

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Moana Pasifika is designed to be a representation of both Samoa and Tonga in Super Rugby Pacific, and while the franchise was expected to play out of New Zealand in its formative years, its commitment to playing at Mt Smart Stadium for such a lengthy period may come as a surprise.

Pacific Rugby Players’ Welfare boss and ex-Manu Samoa lock Daniel Leo has already criticised NZR for its involvement as a key stakeholder in Moana Pasifika as he raised concerns about the franchise becoming “NZ’s sixth Super [Rugby] team” on Twitter earlier this year.

Leo added that he is worried about the authenticity of the franchise as he said there is “lots of room for conflict of interest” and that there had been “very little consultation with Samoa and Tonga”.

Likewise, Manu Samoa head coach Seilala Mapusua and ‘Ikale Tahi boss Toutai Kefu have separately indicated that there has been a lack of clarity regarding how the franchise will operate and how it will benefit Samoan and Tongan rugby.

Confirmation that the franchise won’t be permanently based out of either country until at least 2029 is likely to do little to appease those concerns, but Moana Pasifika patron Sir Bryan Williams is excited by the prospect of the team playing at Mt Smart Stadium.

In a statement, Moana Pasifika labelled Mt Smart Stadium as its “home away from home in the Pacific Islands”, with Williams, the former All Blacks wing, outlining the franchise’s intention to play home games in Samoa and Tonga once international borders are reopened.

“As the competition evolves and subject to international borders being open, our intention is to play games in Samoa and Tonga and expand our presence across our Moana,” Williams said.

“To grow the game in the Pacific, we need to inspire our young players from an early age. They’ll see their heroes run out on the field in Moana Pasifika colours and believe that they can be just like them when they grow up.”

Williams added that Moana Pasifika intends to celebrate the inclusion of Pacific Island teams after more than a quarter of a century of Super Rugby “in style” next season.

“Come February, we’re hoping a new generation of fans will join the movement, ride the wave with us and come out in force to Mt Smart,” he said.

“It’s taken us 26 years to get here, so we intend to make it a really special celebration and we look forward to kicking off the new competition in style.”

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Moana Pasifika lock in Mt Smart Stadium as home venue until 2028

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