Moana Pasifika will make a long-awaited debut in Super Rugby Pacific in 2022 with aspirations high but the reality is the demands of the competition are going to weigh heavy on their season especially against their New Zealand opponents.
Last season: New entrant
Home ground: Mt Smart Stadium
Coach: Aaron Mauger
Captain: Sekope Kepu
Sekope Kepu shapes as a cornerstone of the Moana Pasifika pack. With 110 Test caps for Australia, and 141 appearances for the Waratahs in Super Rugby across 12 seasons, backed by European experience with Bordeaux and London Irish, he has the mana to hold an untried pack together. That will make unity, not only among the pack but the backline too, a crucial asset for a side attempting to make its way in an up-tempo competition against New Zealand teams, especially, well-versed in the demands of Super Rugby.
ROOKIE TO WATCH
At 29, Lolagi Visinia is hardly a rookie in the usual sense of the word. He's a well-travelled tradesman wing-fullback in a team for whom peripatetic is a byword. But he has Super Rugby experience for the Blues and Hurricanes and NPC time with Auckland (40 games and 83 points) and Ranfurly Shield holders Hawke's Bay (30 games and 65 points). Add in time with Grenoble and NEC Green Rockets and he is a force to be reckoned with. He's also had international exposure with New Zealand's Sevens side and the New Zealand Under-20 team. A dangerous runner into the backline from fullback, he will be looking to capitalise on every chance the Moana Pasifika backs can create.
No matter where it is played, the opening game for Moana Pasifika against the Blues, is going to send a message to the rest of the competition, both New Zealand and Australian, about where this side is at. It would be ideal to host their big-city neighbours at their home ground of Mt Smart Stadium, but wherever Covid-19 demands it be played it can be assured that no love will be lost in the game. The Blues have their own reasons to want to make a good start, so both teams will have everything to play for.
Combination will be vital for this new side looking to find its feet in a tough competition. However, there are enough quality players in the side to ensure a steady supply of well-distributed ball, can test the defensive mettle of most of their opponents. First five-eighths Christian Lealifano and Hawke's Bay marksman Lincoln McClutchie shape as key tacticians. But it will be the binding quality of the pack, in both the tight and loose exchanges, to ensure enough quality ball that tells the final story for the side. They face a daunting first season as they attempt to find their feet, but when they do there could be fireworks.
Hookers: Ray Niuia, Sam Moli, Luteru Tolai
Props: Sekope Kepu, Isileli Tuungafasi, Joe Apikatoa, Tau Koloamatangi, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Chris Apoua
Locks: Don Lolo, Mike McKee, Veikoso Poliniati, Alex McRobbie
Loose Forwards: Henry Stowers, Jack Lam, Sione Tuipulotu, Solomone Funaki, Penitoa Finau, Lotu Inisi, Sam Slade, Alamanda Motuga
Halfbacks: Ereatara Enari, Jonathan Taumateine, Manu Paea
First-fives: Christian Lealifano, Lincoln McClutchie, William Havili
Midfield: Levi Aumua, Danny Toala, Henry Taefu, Fine Inisi
Outside Backs: Lolagi Visinia, Neria Fomai, Tomasi Alosio, Solomone Kata, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Tima Fainga'anuku, Anzelo Tuituvuki