With this being their final home game for 2023, Moana Pasifika will be determined to capture their first win of the season in front of their fans.
Friday’s match will be the second time the two teams meet this year, with the Crusaders taking a hard-fought 38-21 win in Round 7 at Orangetheory Stadium. Despite facing an inspired Crusaders team on Richie Mo’unga’s milestone 100th game, Moana Pasifika put their best foot forward against the defending champs as they demonstrated their elite ability to attack for anywhere on the field. A blockbusting performance by the destructive partnership of Levi Aumua and Timoci Tavatavanawai saw the duo combine for three tries, 180 metres, and 11 defenders beaten as they caused havoc for the Crusaders. Moana Pasifika currently lead the competition in post-contact metres, and in big part thanks to the devastating form of the Tasman Mako duo.
Last week at Sky Stadium, Moana Pasifika put forward a new look 23 to take on the Hurricanes. They proved that regardless of who takes the field, a strong and united Moana Pasifika outfit will always present the same danger with ball in hand. Their attacking strength showed early on in the match as they crossed the line three times in the first forty.
The team this week will be hoping to build upon the work-ons and goals the coaches have issued throughout the season, winning the physical battle, being in the right areas and delivering an 80-minute performance. They’ve continuously shown that they’re capable of achieving this and will be intent on putting all the pieces together this Friday against the Crusaders.
Head Coach Aaron Mauger has selected a 23 for this week that combines consistent season starters with the energised newcomers that featured against the Hurricanes last week. Opting for some new combinations throughout the match day squad, Mauger will be confident his side has what it takes to overturn Round Seven’s result.
Abraham Pole currently sits atop Moana Pasifika’s standings as the sides equal top try scorer and has been at his imposing best on both sides of the ball. The loosehead prop returns to the starting lineup this week where he’ll join a familiar partner in Samiuela Moli in the hooking position. Moli has been influential this season and has one of the best throwing percentages in the competition, playing at the standard of an international representative hooker.
Smiling prop Chris Apoua has bolstered the Moana Pasifika set piece whenever he’s taken the field and has been named to start in a front row which will need to be firing against a Crusaders outfit that has an 85% scrum win percentage.
Returning to the second row once again is Michael Curry and Mike McKee. The pair have epitomised the silent hard work of a quality locking duo and will combine with a dynamic front row to complete the tight five.
Blindside flanker Miracle Faiilagi is named in the number six jersey that he has made his own this season. The attacking juggernaut has been given the green light to express himself with ball in hand, so expect the 198cm flanker to feature down the sideline with signature runs out wide. Alamanda Motuga and captain Solomone Funaki complete the loose trio and will continue to lead their team around Go Media Stadium Mt Smart. The two flankers feature heavily among the teams’ top statistics in tackles, carries and turnovers, and will undoubtedly feature all over the park this Friday.
Halfback Ereatara Enari is entering career-best form and will combine with veteran Christian Lealiifano as the on-field navigators. Leading the team in try assists and points respectively, the experienced partnership between these two will play a huge role in unlocking the potential and fire power Moana Pasifika possesses.
Coming in to Second Five-Eighth for the second time this season is Levi Aumua. The competition’s leading tackle buster shifts one position in from his usual center role, indicating Moana Pasifika’s intentions to get the destructive ball runner in closer to the ruck. With six defenders beaten and two clean line breaks last outing against the Crusaders, Aumua will look to set the platform for the electrifying Fine Inisi who comes into the starting lineup at the Centre position. This combination of speed and power within the midfield pairing will be an exciting partnership to watch out for on Friday night.
The consistent and hard-working Neria Foma’i and William Havili return to the starting lineup, and retaining his spot on the wing to round out the back three is former Crusader Tima Fainga’anuku. In Round Seven the Crusaders posed a strong kick-dominant game plan against Moana Pasifika, so these three will be likely to feature heavily once again in Round 13.
On the bench, Mahonri Ngakuru secures his position as lock cover after a strong performance against the Hurricanes last week, and backing up from a proud outing as captain is Henry Taefu, who will join Timoci Tavatavanawai on the bench as the late game impact options.
Moana Pasifika v Crusaders: Friday 19th May, 7:05pm NZT, Go Media Stadium Mt Smart. TICKETS.
1. Abraham Pole
2. Samiuela Moli
3. Chris Apoua
4. Michael Curry
5. Mike McKee
6. Miracle Faiilagi
7. Alamanda Motuga
8. Solomone Funaki ©
9. Ereatara Enari
10. Christian Lealiifano
11. Neria Foma’i
12. Levi Aumua
13. Fine Inisi
14. Tima Fainga’anuku
15. William Havili
Reserves: 16. Luteru Tolai 17. Ezekiel Lindenmuth 18. Sosefo ‘Apikotoa 19. Mahonri Ngakuru 20. Jonah Mau’u 21. Jonathan Taumateine 22. Henry Taefu 23. Timoci Tavatavanawai