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Moana Pasifika star eyes Super Rugby redemption following weight battle

By Alex McLeod
Credit: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz

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It’s been three years since Levi Aumua last played Super Rugby, but the new Moana Pasifika recruit is ready to have another crack at it after overcoming a long-standing battle with his weight.

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Formerly a member of the Chiefs and Blues, Aumua racked up a grand total of just four appearances between 2018 and 2019, with all of those matches coming while he played for the Auckland-based side three years ago.

That figure that doesn’t reflect the promise and talent he has shown while plying his trade at domestic level with Tasman across two stints since 2017.

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A barnstorming midfielder capable of playing at either second-five or centre, Aumua has made a name for himself in New Zealand’s NPC as a damaging ball-carrier whose imposing physical stature has left opposition defences reeling in his wake.

Those traits have also enabled him to play all over the world for clubs in France, Australia and Japan, but it’s in Super Rugby where he wants to be.

Having been afforded few opportunities by the Chiefs and Blues to stamp his authority over proceedings at that level, Aumua is eager to make better use of his time at Moana Pasifika in their debut Super Rugby Pacific campaign.

He is confident of doing so after registering for pre-season training in career-best condition following a lengthy struggle with his weight, which he said prevented him from reaching his best during his time at the Chiefs and Blues.

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“Obviously, I’ve always had a bit of an issue with my ongoing fight with my weight,” he told RugbyPass when asked about how his experiences with the Blues and Chiefs have helped prepare him to embark on his debut campaign with Moana Pasifika.

“This is probably the best shape or weight I’ve ever been at. Even though I’ve been through those teams, they brought me to this point where I’m feeling good, I’m feeling myself, and I’m helping other boys do the same thing, so I’m looking forward to the season.

“This is the best I’ve ever felt in my shape.”

Perhaps his newly-trimmed physique is a testament to Moana Pasifika’s pre-season training regime, but Aumua said it took some time for him to address his weight, which – at its peak – had been listed as 118kg at previous stages in his career.

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It wasn’t until he trekked abroad to play for the Hino Red Dolphins and Toyota Shuttles Industries in Japan that he realised he needed to take action in a bid to revive his Super Rugby career.

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“I would definitely say it was one of the big issues [that held him back at the Chiefs and Blues],” Aumua told RugbyPass.

“It took me a while to find my way with it, but going to Japan, playing over there, did a bit of reflecting, and I still had the hunger to play Super Rugby.

“Coming into this environment, it was still there, so something just clicked and I’m back here and giving it another go.”

Now ingrained in the Moana Pasifika set-up, Aumua has set his sights on gaining redemption over the two teams that released him earlier in his career.

“Definitely, the Blues especially,” Aumua said of his eagerness to beat the Chiefs and Moana Pasifika’s cross-town rivals.

“I’ve got a lot of mates still there [at the Blues], but I’d say the Crusaders would be one [team he’d like to beat]. Most of my Tasman mates are back at the Crusaders. Everyone wants to beat them.”

Aumua may well get the chance to knock off one of those teams as early as February 18 when Moana Pasifika host the Blues in the Super Rugby Pacific season-opener at Mt Smart Stadium.

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A strong performance in that match could pave the way for regular starting honours in the Moana Pasifika backline, where he will likely compete for starting honours with Solomone Kata, Danny Toala, Henry Taefu and Fine Inisi.

If he manages to keep those players at bay and hold his place in Moana Pasifika’s starting lineup, it wouldn’t surprise to see Aumua’s chances of an international call-up for either Samoa or Fiji receive a significant boost.

Eligible for both countries, Aumua said that, with next year’s World Cup broadening on the horizon, this is the year he will seriously begin to push for test rugby, although which country he would opt to play for remains up in the air.

“I haven’t given it that much thought. I wouldn’t say no, though, to either team. Definitely this is the year that I would consider [playing for Samoa or Fiji]. I just don’t know who I’d rather upset out of mum or dad. I’ll leave it up to them.”

Before then, though, Aumua is intent on helping guide Moana Pasifika to a successful maiden season in Super Rugby Pacific, one of which he hopes the new expansion franchise will be a source of pride for their Pacific Island supporters.

“For us, we just play for the love of sport, we play for the Pacific, for our families, for our ancestors, and all the people of Pacific rugby that’s been before us, so making them proud – whether we win or lose – would be the biggest thing,” he told RugbyPass.

“Also, for us, we’ve got our own system of rugby, play how we want to play and play to our strengths. If that works for us, I guess we’ll take that as a win.”

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