Moana Pasifika make a ‘miracle’ with 2023 squad naming

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Miracle Fai'ilagi that is. Fai'ilagi, 23, benefited from the visit of coaches Aaron Mauger and Filo Tiatia to the World Rugby Pacific Combine that was held in Fiji.

The combine is a pathway towards national teams from the Pacific Islands and gives players a taste of a high-performance programme. During September the top players from Samoa, Tonga and Fiji were placed in an intensive training environment similar to that of a professional team.

Mauger and Tiatia attended with a view towards offering two players training contracts with Moana Pasifika.

Instead, they were so impressed with Fai'ilagi's physical prowess, game intelligence and professionalism, they awarded him a fulltime contract.

Mauger said: "Miracle is a natural leader who exudes humility, respect and tautua [service]. He has represented Samoa in Sevens, so has a solid fitness foundation, a high work-rate and is hard-nosed. He isn't afraid to put his head in to dark places, and has a very high ceiling."

The coaches identified much untapped talent at the event and said Fai'ilagi was only one of several players who caught their eye.

"The way these young men responded to being in a professional environment for the first time was outstanding and we have rewarded another five players with pre-season training contracts."

Also joining the squad from New Zealand are Otago prop Abraham Pole, Waikato and Manu Samoa first five-eighths D'Angelo Leuila, Tasman lock Mahonri Ngakuru and North Harbour loose forward Michael Curry.

Pole played nine games as a permanent injury replacement for Moana Pasifika last year, scoring four tries and securing the starting loosehead position 

Leuila can also cover midfield and fullback.

"D'Angelo spent some time with us last year and we set him some challenges around earning a full contract. He rose to the challenge with yet another outstanding NPC season. He's a strong ball carrier, has a strong kicking game and sees space really well," Mauger said.

Ngakuru had five games for the side last year and Tiatia said his lineout assertiveness and willingness to learn shone through.

"His NPC form really caught our eye and you could see he actioned a lot of the challenges we gave him at the end of our season," he said.

Mauger said after the impression he made on and off the field with his work ethic, it was a 'no-brainer' to give Curry a contract.

With the ability to have a full pre-season build-up, instead of the three weeks they had last season, Mauger said he was looking forward to working with a squad that was more mature and had developed through 2022.

The side will face Fijian Drua in their first game of the season at Mt Smart on February 25.

The Moana Pasifika squad is: Abraham Pole, Alamanda Motuga, Alex McRobbie, Chris Apoua, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Isi Tu'ungafasi, Jack Lam, Joe 'Apikotoa, Lotu Inisi, Luteru Tolai, Mahonri Ngakuru, Michael Curry, Mike McKee, Miracle Fai'ilagi, Penitoa Finau, Ray Niuia, Samiuela Moli, Samuel Slade, Sekope Kepu, Sione Tu'ipulotu, Solomone Funaki, Taukiha'amea Koloamatangi; Anzelo Tuitavuki, Christian Leali'ifano, D'Angelo Leuila, Danny Toala, Ereatara Enari, Fine Inisi, Henry Taefu, Jonathan Taumateine, Levi Aumua, Lincoln McClutchie, Lolagi Visinia, Manu Paea, Neria Foma'i, Tima Fainga'anuku, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Tomasi Alosio, William Havili.


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