Nasi Manu will add another chapter to his remarkable recovery from testicular cancer after being named captain of Tonga in his first match back in test rugby against Samoa this weekend.
The 30-year-old loose forward hasn’t played internationally since being diagnosed with the illness towards the end of last year, with his last appearance for the ‘Ikale Tahi coming against Fiji last June.
He consequently missed Benetton Treviso’s entire Pro14 campaign last season while undergoing chemotherapy treatment, but has since been named in Toutai Kefu’s 31-man Tonga squad for the Pacific Nations Cup, and will skipper the side in this weekend’s opener in Apia.
The opportunity to lead his nation comes as a result of regular captains Siate Piutau and Sonetane Takulua being absent from the team.
Their omissions means Manu will be in charge of an inexperienced lineup, which features three debutants in the starting side, including Scarlets-bound Hurricanes lock Sam Lousi, who has recovered from a pectoral injury which has sidelined him since February.
First-five James Faiva, who plies his trade for SilverStorm El Salvador in the Division de Honor in Spain, and Australian-born Stade Francais midfielder Malietoa Hingano, a squad replacement for Fetuli Paea, will join Lousi in making their first international appearances.
A further two newbies could earn their first caps from the bench, with Bayonne prop Toma Taufa and Auckland midfielder Otumaka Mausia included in the match day squad.
Those new faces will be accompanied by some familiar names, such as Racing 92 prop Ben Tameifuna, Castres loose forward Maama Vaipulu, and Bath utility back Cooper Vuna.
The Pacific Nations Cup opener at Apia Park marks the first match of 2019 for both Tonga and Samoa in the lead-up to the World Cup in two months’ time.
Following Saturday’s clash, Tonga will go on to face Japan in Osaka and Canada in Lautoka in consecutive weeks, before playing Fiji at Eden Park in Auckland as part of the Pasifika Challenge II on August 31.
A week after that, they take on the All Blacks at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton in their final warm-up match ahead of the World Cup, which kicks off for them against England in Sapporo on September 22.
Tonga team to face Samoa:
1. Paea Fa’anunu, 2. Elvis Taione, 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Leva Fifita, 5. Sam Lousi*, 6. Onehunga Havili, 7. Maama Vaipulu, 8. Nasi Manu (c), 9. Samisoni Fisilau, 10. James Faiva*, 11. Viliame Lolohea, 12. Cooper Vuna, 13. Malietoa Hingano*, 14. David Halaifonua, 15. Nafi Tuitavake.
16. Sefo Sakalia, 17. Toma Taufa*, 18. Ma’afu Fia, 19. Zane Kapeli, 20. Fotu Lokotui, 21. Sione Vailanu, 22. Leon Fukofuka, 23. Otumaka Mausia*.
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