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FEATURE Moana Pasifika must rethink their objectives

Moana Pasifika must rethink their objectives
1 year ago

The big hope when Moana Pasifika was granted a licence to enter Super Rugby Pacific was that it would become a vehicle to showcase the best Pasifika talent and transition players into the national teams of Samoa and Tonga.

The big fear when Moana Pasifika was granted a licence to enter Super Rugby Pacific was that it would become a vehicle to showcase the best Pasifika talent and transition players into the national teams of New Zealand and Australia.

Two years on and it might be that those who feared the worst were right to do so.

Moana have not so far proven to be the success story everyone hoped they would be.

In two campaigns they have won just two games – both last year – and while Danny Toala has been able to launch an international career with Samoa on the back of his performances, the one genuine star that Moana have produced – Levi Aumua – will be joining the Crusaders next year, presumably because he’s about to commit his future to the All Blacks.

Levi Aumua will switch from Moana Pasifika to the Crusaders in 2024. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

To be clear, no one should judge or condemn Aumua for the choice he has made. He’s a professional athlete who was born in New Zealand, finished his schooling in Australia and has Fijian and Samoan heritage.

He was also, as has been forgotten, previously part of the New Zealand professional system, but failed to make much of an impression.

He was in the Chiefs squad in 2018 but didn’t play a game. The Blues picked him up in 2019, used him four times but never seemed to realise what they had in their midst and so Aumua, unwanted and not rated in New Zealand, headed to Japan for two seasons before returning to play for Moana in 2022.

Aumua, despite being eligible for Samoa, clearly began his professional career with his sights set on playing for New Zealand and so what Moana did was put him back on track.

They were the first team to understand what they had in Aumua. They used him properly – not just as a battering ram, but as a playmaker with a clever kicking repertoire and neat offloading game.

The fact [Aumua] has been enticed to leave Moana to join the Crusaders next year suggests that he is at least very much in the plans of All Blacks coach-elect Scott Robertson.

They picked him every week, built his confidence and provided the sort of environment where he obviously thrived and in doing so, he’s been able to establish himself as one of the best midfielders in the competition and with a skillset that was of enough interest to New Zealand that he was picked by the All Blacks XV last year.

We obviously don’t know if Aumua is going to feature in New Zealand’s World Cup squad this year, but the fact he has been enticed to leave Moana to join the Crusaders next year suggests that he is at least very much in the plans of All Blacks coach-elect Scott Robertson.

No one doubts that Aumua is going to become an All Black – be it this year or next – and while that’s probably always been his dream, and is a consequence of his sustained excellence, it doesn’t change the fact that one genuine superstar has been unearthed by Moana and while he’s qualified to play for Samoa, he’s not going to.

The cold facts, without context, are that Moana have unearthed a great player who has been snapped up by the All Blacks and that those who feared this is precisely what would happen, were right to be concerned.

As former All Black John Kirwan noted on Sky’s Breakdown show: “Let’s put it straight on the table, Moana Pasifika should survive and make sure we keep this going.

Aaron Mauger won’t be back with Moana Pasifika in 2024, despite having one more year to run on his initial contract. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

“But how can someone like Aumua then get an NZR contract? I don’t understand that. What were the goals for Moana this year? It was to create more pathways for Pasifika players, more people from Samoa and Tonga getting opportunity. What am I missing?”

Aumua’s contract switch has coincided with the decision by Moana coach Aaron Mauger to not fulfil the third and final year of his contract and the news that the club is going to shift from its home base at Mt Smart Stadium in South Auckland.

All in all, it seems like an apt time for New Zealand Rugby and all Moana’s various stakeholders to have a re-think about objectives for 2024 and beyond.

What’s clear is that Moana need help and an element of protection. Two wins in two campaigns is a poor return and while will be some blame headed towards Mauger – and suggestions have already been made that there is a damning review in the pipeline where players have expressed their dissatisfaction – the real problem the club has faced is contracting quality players.

Moana was set up to attract the best Pasifika talent but it hasn’t been able to do that. They had hoped that they would be able to lure a handful of big names out of Europe, but they didn’t have the financial means to offer anywhere near close to the sort of money being paid out by the English, French and Japanese clubs.

Whether it was lack of money, or players fearing that the club would struggle, Moana launched with a squad that lacked experience and firepower.

And even if they had the budget, Moana was launched during the Covid pandemic when New Zealand’s border was shut and there was no means to bring players into the country.

They found it was just as hard to persuade players already in New Zealand and Australia to leave established Super Rugby clubs.

Whether it was lack of money, or players fearing that the club would struggle, Moana launched with a squad that lacked experience and firepower.

What made that so problematic was that when they did indeed struggle to win games, it made it even harder to recruit and so two years after launching, Moana still haven’t been able to build the sort of playing base they need to be genuinely competitive.

And players such as Aumua can’t help but feel they would be better off committing to the All Blacks if the prospect arises. The system needs Moana to be competitive and for players to genuinely believe they wouldn’t be making the mistake of a lifetime to turn down the All Blacks and commit to Samoa or Tonga.

Former Hurricane Danny Toala has been one of the major success stories for Moana Pasifika. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

What particularly hurts Moana is that there are players across Super Rugby Pacific who are Samoan or Tongan eligible and unlikely to be wanted by either the All Blacks or Wallabies, but are locked into existing contracts.

NZR and its five Super Rugby clubs need to ask themselves what they are willing to do to help Moana. The club doesn’t have a sustainable future unless it can start winning games, attract fans and sponsors and make a valuable contribution to the competition.

And to do that, it needs better players. The only way that will happen, however, is if the other five clubs are willing to make a few sacrifices.

NZR has to consider finding ways to enable players to leave existing contracts early and effectively run a managed process to prise a few individuals out of the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders and into the Pasifika franchise.

In some cases that shouldn’t be too hard because there are Samoan and Tongan eligible payers barely starting for their New Zealand clubs.

If nothing changes, Moana are likely to remain rooted to the bottom of the table and the All Blacks are going to pick off their best players.

There will be other players who are important fixtures at their current clubs but would be happy to join Moana if they were allowed to leave their contract early and offered the same amount of money.

Whatever the process, there is no question that Moana would be a different side if they could take James Lay, Soane Vikena and Taniela Tele’a from the Blues; Josh Ioane, Ngantungane Punivai and Samipeni Finau from the Chiefs; Tevita Mafileo, Du’Plessis Kirifi and Brayden Iose from the Hurricanes; Chay Fihaki, Sione Havili-Talitui and Melani Nanai from the Crusaders and Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Connor Garden-Bachop and Andrew Makalio from the Highlanders.

If nothing changes, Moana are likely to remain rooted to the bottom of the table and the All Blacks are going to pick off their best players.

And if they remain unable to even be competitive, then Super Rugby Pacific is going to be left with the problem of keeping fans gripped.

Fringe players from other Super Rugby franchises – such as the Chiefs’ Josh Ioane – could make an immediate impact at Moana Pasifika. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

The big derby clashes between the best Kiwi sides are gripping and drawing improved broadcast audiences that are as high as they have been in the last five years but the lesser games are proving such a turn-off that former All Black and Sky commentator Justin Marshall admitted that he stopped watching the recent match between the Crusaders and Moana.

“Look, I will throw it out there, I will be quite honest – I stopped watching,” Marshall said on a SENZ sport radio show.

“Once they pulled out by 20-odd points, or whatever, I actually switched it over to see what rugby league game was on. They were never going to lose that game. It was just about how much they were going to win it by.

“So I was like, ‘Okay you are going well, you are not having a day where you have rested a few players and you are going to get caught out like you did against the Drua’. And they proved, to just go on and do that. So it lost my interest, quite quickly.”

If even the most dedicated of fans such as former international stars are turned off by matches, then what hope is there for the future of the competition?

Comments

9 Comments
F
Francisco 384 days ago

I confess to being an admirer of the island game. It brings a different touch to a game that is often defined by details in the quality of game execution. The way I see things, Drua has had a different evolution than Moana. He has improved his attack and control over discipline and breakdown, from 2022. Both represent the lowest kicked possession rates in SuperRugbyPacific. I don't know the details of how an addition like Drua or Moana is planned. I ignore business plans. But it occurs to me that regarding the game, we must be patient with the development of the process.

J
JD Kiwi 384 days ago

The author missed out the rest of that conversation on the Breakdown when someone pointed out that 28 Moana players have played test rugby for Samoa or Tonga. Or the other star, Stowers, who moved to France.. Instead he built an unbalanced story about the one player (who is kiwi born) who might go on and play for New Zealand. And then went on to make a proposal to weaken the other kiwi franchises by taking away players mid contract.

The one thing he got right is that the team needs money to attract players back from Europe and Japan, but overall it's fulfilling its main mission to produce and provide employment for Samoan and Tongan internationals.

V
Viliami 385 days ago

Let Moana go and setup Timi Samoa and a Timi Tonga. I guarantee you that the support will be even stronger than that for the Fiji Drua. You only have to remember the support from The respective communities for Mate ma Tonga and Toa Samoa in Rugby League and also the national teams in Rugby Union. Both teams would be able to field teams equal to The Fiji drua or even better.

m
mikejjules 386 days ago

It is still developing players for the Pacific Islands. Yes some will choose NZ or Australia but the other players are still getting valuable experience that will benefit Tonga and Fiji

M
Michael 386 days ago

Draft system needed for New Zealand. It works. But the commitment has to be there. Japan team and US based in Hawaii would be good for Super Rugby Pacific, but for all teams to be competitive. Needs far-sighted change and new thinking, otherwise eventually fans will lose interest.

h
h 386 days ago

Time to let Moana go. We all know nothing will change. It will be a slow and depressing outcome that will only serve to discredit an already pathetic competition.

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