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New Zealand's rising star Niko Jones was almost lost to MLR until Moana Pasifika called

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Dave Rowland/Getty Images for New Zealand Rugby)

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Promising young loose forward Niko Jones almost left New Zealand in early January to take up an opportunity in the MLR in the USA after a challenging two years since starring as a schoolboy in 2018.

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The son of All Black legend Michael Jones signed a contract with the All Blacks Sevens coming out of school but injury limited his time in the shorter game before linking up with his local provincial union Auckland.

He made his NPC debut in 2020 but a raft of injuries and Auckland’s lockdown situation limited Jones to seven games over the last two seasons.

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When the Blues made a play for promising Tasman-product Anton Segner, Jones was on the outer and begun looking overseas where an offer to play in the MLR came forward.

That was until Moana Pasifika came calling and gave Jones the opportunity to train with the squad.

“Things kind of fell into place to end up here, I didn’t expect it so it’s all come full circle,” the 21-year-old told One News Sport.

“It’s been a journey of rugby, injuries and not making all the teams, that’s a part of the game and if anything I’ve grown from it and I’m in a good place now,” he said.

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“I’m feeling in really good shape physically and all those sorts of things.”

The prospect of Jones launching his Super Rugby career with Moana Pasifika could be a major coup for the start-up franchise, as the Auckland-product’s potential held in high regard.

With Wallabies veterans Sekope Kepu and Christian Leali’ifano adding leadership and experience to the squad, Jones has been learning from some of the most experienced players of this era.

“The culture they bring, got a bit of an Aussie twist on it too…but they got those Pacific roots too, it’s awesome to see they did a lot of time over there but their culture and everything about them is Pasifika,” he said.

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“I’m a bit in awe when I’m with them but to feel like I’m on the same level as well, they don’t seem like they’re higher than me or anything, they’re just one of the boys.”

Moana play their first ever game of Super Rugby against the Blues at Mount Smart Stadium on February 18 to open the season, giving Jones the chance to match up against his hometown franchise.

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