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Picking a Moana Pasifika XV of players coming off-contract in 2021

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The long-awaited inclusion of the Pacific Islands in southern hemisphere franchise rugby is nearly upon us.


Moana Pasifika, representative of Samoa and Tonga, and the Fijian Drua will be included in a new professional competition featuring all 10 of the New Zealand and Australian Super Rugby clubs in 2022, and fanfare surrounding their addition is building.

Being granted conditional licences to play in next year’s tournament means both teams can begin the process of recruiting a playing and coaching staff to become competitive forces against New Zealand’s and Australia’s top sides.

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Much has been made about who will make up the playing roster at each franchise, with reports emerging that the Fijian Drua already have Olympic sevens hopefuls, Fijian internationals and foreign stars with Fijian heritage lining up to play for the Suva-based team.

Likewise, Tonga Rugby Union chief executive Peter Harding has revealed some members of Tonga’s 2019 World Cup squad contacted him about playing for Moana Pasifika just days after their inclusion in the competition was announced.

Moana Pasifika general manager Kevin Senio has also said the franchise are looking abroad to sign star players with Pasifika heritage to help balance out the acquisition of locally-based players.

The recruitment strategy of Moana Pasifika, in particular, hasn’t come without controversy, though, as Pacific Rugby Players Welfare chief executive and ex-Samoa lock Daniel Leo has expressed concerns that the team could become “NZs 6th Super Team”.


Furthermore, the debate between respected broadcaster Ken Laban and former All Blacks wing Sir John Kirwan earlier this week highlighted the contrasting perceptions of who should be signed to best benefit Moana Pasifika and the Pacific region as a whole in the short-and-long-term.

All of this begs the question of which players could the franchise actually sign ahead of their inaugural season of competitive rugby?

Most, if not all, of Moana Pasifika’s 38-man squad will be of Pasifika heritage as Senio confirmed that 80 percent of the franchise’s players will need to be capped or eligible to play for a Pacific Island nation.

That opens the door for eight players who have already been capped by other nations and, presumably, are of Pasifika descent.


Who those players may be remains to be seen, but, with squads needing to be finalised over the coming months, negotiations are likely to get underway shortly if they haven’t already.

With all that in mind, we have taken it upon ourselves to find out which players with a Pacific Island background from across the globe are coming off-contract and, therefore, should be available for Moana Pasifika to sign.

This is, of course, not an indication of which players have or haven’t signed for the franchise, but rather a theoretical XV made up of players whose contracts are expiring and could be on the radar of Moana Pasifika’s recruitment team.

Some clubs, particularly those in the Premiership and Top League, refrain from publicly disclosing the length of certain players’ contracts, while some don’t release any details about their contracts at all.

That means there may be some players from those leagues not mentioned here who could go on to play for Moana Pasifika in 2022.

It is, however, public knowledge that the contracts of the players featured below are set to expire at the end of their respective club seasons, hence their inclusions in this potential Moana Pasifika XV.

1. Aki Seiuli

Age: 28
Nation: New Zealand
Test caps: uncapped
Club: Glasgow Warriors

Brought to Scotland by former boss Dave Rennie after spells with the Highlanders and Otago in New Zealand, Aki Seiuli’s two-year deal with Glasgow Warriors is due to expire this year.

Born in Christchurch and schooled in Timaru, the 28-year-old loosehead prop has Samoan parents and he revealed to RugbyPass prior to his arrival in Glasgow that he was a wanted man by Manu Samoa at the 2019 World Cup.

A knee injury prevented him from representing his country of heritage, but returning to the South Pacific and playing for Moana Pasifika may be a step towards realising that prospect.

Other off-contract players: Karl Tu’inukuafe (Blues), Loni Uhila (La Rochelle), Xavier Numia (Hurricanes), Feao Fotuaika (Queensland Reds), Lua Li (San Diego Legion)

2. Tolu Latu

Age: 28
Nation: Australia
Test caps: 19
Club: Stade Francais

Capped 19 times by the Wallabies since his test debut against Wales five years ago, Tongan-born hooker Tolu Latu signed a two-year deal with French juggernauts Stade Francais in 2019.

That means the 28-year-old’s deal expires at the end of this Top 14 season, which will make him available for a move to Moana Pasifika, should the franchise come calling.

Given his Tongan background, the lure of representing his nation of birth could be a drawcard for Latu, whose time with the Wallabies would make him one of the eight designated spots for ineligible Samoan and Tongan players.

Other off-contract players: Leni Apisai (Blues)

3. Paul Alo-Emile

Age: 29
Nation: Samoa
Test caps: 17
Club: Stade Francais

The first player in this team to have played for a Pacific Island nation at test level, Manu Samoa tighthead prop Paul Alo-Emile would be a valued addition to Moana Pasifika given experience .

After acquiring 50 appearances for the Melbourne Rebels, the New Zealand-born 29-year-old departed to Stade Francais in 2015 and made his test debut for Samoa against the All Blacks in 2017.

Alo-Emile signed a three-year contract extension with the Parisian club in 2018, meaning he would be a free agent at the end of the current Top 14 season.

Other off-contract players: Joe Apikotoa (Chiefs), Zak Taulafo (Rugby United New York), Sefo Kautai (Brumbies)

4. Filo Paulo

Age: 33
Nation: Samoa
Test caps: 38
Club: Manawatu

Another Samoan international, Filo Paulo is a well-travelled second rower with 14 collective years of Super Rugby, Pro14 and Premiership experience to his name.

The 33-year-old has also garnered 38 tests for Manu Samoa since 2012 and was part of the squad that competed at the 2019 World Cup.

Paulo returned to New Zealand last year to play for Manawatu in the Mitre 10 Cup following his second spell with Cardiff Blues, but signing with Moana Pasifika would get him back into full-time professional rugby.

Other off-contract players: Joe Tekori (Toulouse), Kane Le’aupepe (Hurricanes)

5. Vaea Fifita

Age: 28
Nation: New Zealand
Test caps: 11
Club: Hurricanes

After first bursting onto the international scene with a scintillating try against Argentina in just his second test for the All Blacks in 2017, many predicted big things to come from Tongan-born Vaea Fifita.

However, things haven’t transpired as smoothly as planned as the 28-year-old utility forward, who is capable of playing lock and blindside flanker, hasn’t played for the All Blacks since July 2019 and has struggled for minutes at Super Rugby level.

Fifita’s one-year contract extension with the Hurricanes expires this year, and if he can’t break into the Wellington side’s match day squad by the end of the season, a move to Moana Pasifika could well be on the cards for the Tongan-born star.

Other off-contract players: Sitaleki Timani (Western Force), Trevor Hosea (Melbourne Rebels)

6. Steven Luatua

Age: 29
Nation: New Zealand
Test caps: 15
Club: Bristol Bears

Earning a reported NZ$1.34 million per year, former All Blacks loose forward Steven Luatua stands as one of rugby’s highest-paid players.

With that kind of money, it’s fair to say the 29-year-old is a key part of the Bristol Bears set-up, and one would imagine head coach Pat Lam will be looking at extending Luatua’s contract beyond its expiration date this year.

However, while he cut short a potentially illustrious test career with the All Blacks four years ago, a chance to represent his Samoan heritage via Moana Pasifika could be an even more enticing prospect.

Other off-contract players: Samipeni Finau (Chiefs)

7. Ardie Savea

Age: 27
Nation: New Zealand
Test caps: 49
Club: Hurricanes

Arguably one of New Zealand’s most influential players both on and off the field, Hurricanes captain and All Blacks star Ardie Savea is coming off-contract with New Zealand Rugby [NZR] this year.

Many would regard the 27-year-old’s signature as a top priority for rugby bosses at the NZR negotiation table, but it isn’t unfathomable to suggest he could suit up for Moana Pasifika next season.

Savea has been outspoken in his passion for his Samoan background, and with the Hurricanes facing a potential exodus of talent after this year, jumping ship to the new side would be a big statement from the 2019 World Rugby Player of the Year nominee.

Other off-contract players: Jack Ram (New England Free Jacks), Alamanda Motunga (Counties Manukau)

8. Caleb Timu

Age: 27
Nation: Australia
Test caps: 2
Club: Montpellier

Like Luatua, powerful Australian No. 8 Caleb Timu opted for financial security ahead of a long test career when he left the Queensland Reds for Montpellier in 2019.

The 27-year-old, who played two tests for the Wallabies against Ireland in 2018, joined the Top 14 juggernauts on a two-year deal and has since ruled out returning to Australia in the short-term due to the lifestyle and money on offer in the south of France.

That was before Moana Pasifika was formed, though, and, given Timu is coming off-contract and of Samoan descent, a move back to the Southern Hemisphere may appeal for the New Zealand-born product.

Other off-contract players: Nasi Manu (Otago)

9. Danny Tusitala

Age: 29
Nation: Samoa
Test caps: 3
Club: Old Glory DC

A regular in New Zealand provincial rugby for Auckland and a former Samoa representative in both XVs and sevens, Danny Tusitala has returned to the United States for a second season with Old Glory DC in Major League Rugby.

It’s in the North American competition where the 29-year-old has flourished for the Washington DC-based club as he’s shown off his electric speed and lethal running game multiple times this season.

It are those traits that would suit the brand of rugby likely to be implemented by Moana Pasifika, and with Tusitala’s Old Glory DC deal ending this year, the three-test Manu Samoa halfback would be a great fit for the franchise.

Other off-contract players: Jonathan Taumateine (Hurricanes), Pele Cowley (Austin Gilgronis), Dwayne Polataivao (Tasman), Melani Matavao (A’ana Chiefs)

10. Matt To’omua

Age: 31
Nation: Australia
Test caps: 54
Club: Melbourne Rebels

After returning to Australian club rugby in 2019 following three seasons abroad with Leicester Tigers, veteran Wallabies playmaker Matt To’omua is coming to the end of his deal with the Melbourne Rebels.

Similarly to Savea, the 31-year-old pivot will be regarded as a high priority retention target by Rugby Australia as they look ahead to the 2023 World Cup, which was confirmed by Rebels chief executive Baden Stephenson last week.

But, according to reports, To’omua highly values aspects other than money when it comes to negotiating for new deals, so perhaps Moana Pasifika could tap into that by convincing him the chance to represent his Samoan heritage is worth signing for.

Other off-contract players: Stephen Perofeta (Blues), Jackson Garden-Bachop (Hurricanes), Kurt Morath (Austin Gilgronis), Latiume Fosita (Counties Manukau), James Faiva (Petrarca)

11. Alapati Leiua

Age: 32
Nation: Samoa
Test caps: 31
Club: Bristol Bears

Already equipped with almost half a century of Super Rugby appearances to his name, former Hurricanes powerhouse Alapati Leiua would seamlessly slot back into the wing if things down south if given the chance by Moana Pasifika.

A 31-cap Manu Samoa international, Leiua departed Super Rugby for the riches of European club rugby in 2014, firstly joining Premiership side Wasps before linking up with the star-studded Bristol Bears three years later.

His contract in Pat Lam’s squad is due to expire this year, though, but with that much experience in the Premiership, Super Rugby and at test level, all while not taking a foreigner’s spot in the team, Leiua would be a prominent figure at Moana Pasifika HQ.

Other off-contract players: Ed Fidow (Worcester Warriors), Toni Pulu (Western Force), George Moala (Clermont)

12. Ngani Laumape

Age: 28
Nation: New Zealand
Test caps: 15
Club: Hurricanes

One of the most damaging ball-runners we’ve seen in Super Rugby in recent times, just how long Ngani Laumape remains in the competition appears uncertain.

The off-contract Hurricanes star is reportedly being circled by French side Stade Francais as the 28-year-old struggles to become a regular selection in the All Blacks squad, garnering just 15 tests since 2017.

The chance to play for Moana Pasifika next year, however, might pique Laumape’s interest as much as the cash-filled Stade Francais proposal given the pride he has of his Tongan heritage.

Other off-contract players: Siale Piutau (Bristol Bears), TJ Faiane (Blues), Danny Toala (Hurricanes), Len Ikitau (Brumbies), Tepai Moeroa (Waratahs), Henry Taefu (Western Force)

13. Ma’a Nonu

Age: 38
Nation: New Zealand
Test caps: 103
Club: Toulon

Among the greatest players ever to grace the game of rugby, former All Blacks midfielder Ma’a Nonu might view one last ride with Moana Pasifika as the final chapter on his illustrious career once his second stint at Toulon as a medical joker comes to an end.

With a trophy cabinet that features two World Cups, eight Bledisloe Cups, five Tri Nations/Rugby Championships, seven Freedom Cups and 2015 NZR Player of the Year, the 38-year-old All Blacks centurion has little more to prove on the pitch.

What is missing from that raft of accolades, though, is a Super Rugby crown, and after various stints with three different franchises, the lure of both chasing one last title while representing his Samoan background could bring Nonu to Moana Pasifika.

Other off-contract players: Ben Tapuai (Harlequins), Isaia Toeava (Toulon), Lalakai Foketi (Waratahs)

14. Cooper Vuna

Age: 33
Nation: Tonga
Test caps: 18
Club: Newcastle Falcons

A former Wallabies wing who represented Australia in two tests nine years ago, Cooper Vuna was among the first players to utilise an Olympic loophole to change eligibility to play test rugby for Tonga.

A debut for the ‘Ikale Tahi followed in 2016, and the 33-year-old has since gone on to play a total of 16 tests for his second country, who he played for at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Now at the Newcastle Falcons in the Premiership following stints with the Melbourne Rebels, Toshiba Brave Lupus, Worcester Warriors and Bath, as well as a six-year career in rugby league, Vuna would offer a wealth of experience at Moana Pasifika.

Other off-contract players: Belgium Tuatagaloa (Rouen)

15. Tim Nanai-Williams

Age: 31
Nation: Samoa
Test caps: 16
Club: Clermont

Vuna’s eligibility switch followed in the wake of Tim Nanai-Williams, who was the inaugural player to have used the Olympic loophole to change his allegiance from the All Blacks Sevens side to Manu Samoa.

After first appearing for Samoa on the World Sevens Series in 2014, the 31-year-old made his test debut for his nation of heritage the following year and has since featured at the 2015 and 2019 World Cups.

Capable of playing in every backline position bar halfback, those who have watched Super Rugby over the past decade know how dangerous Nanai-Williams can be, a facet Moana Pasfika would no doubt be eager to have if he decides to leave Clermont.


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