21 Feb 2024

Super Rugby Pacific team preview: Moana Pasifika

1:42 pm on 21 February 2024
Fine Inisi of Moana Pasifika celebrates his first try during the Moana Pasifika v Melbourne Rebels.

Fine Inisi of Moana Pasifika celebrates his first try during the Moana Pasifika v Melbourne Rebels. Photo: www.photosport.nz

Analysis - Super Rugby is back for 2024, with a fresh look and a commitment to running rugby. Our final New Zealand team preview assesses Moana Pasifika.

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Read the Hurricanes preview

Read the Highlanders preview


There's an awful lot to cover for Moana Pasifika, unfortunately there's about half a dozen articles worth before you'd even start addressing what will happen on the field. The start-up project has moved base from Mt Smart (which always seemed like a weird fit) to North Harbour Stadium (which seems even weirder), as well as not really having a proper home schedule.

Questions swirl about Moana's future, but for now they enter 2024 with a new look side and overhauled coaching staff. Former All Black captain Tana Umaga takes over, bringing in Tom Coventry and Stephen Jones, on one hand they have an uphill battle and on the other they have a free hand to build an ethos and culture of their own.

New Moana Pasifika coach Tana Umaga.

New Moana Pasifika coach Tana Umaga. Photo: Photosport

The good

Miracle Fai'ilagi's extremely impressive season last year showed that Moana can certainly do what they are set up to. Fai'ilagi was signed out of Samoa and transitioned perfectly into a professional environment and took that form to the Rugby World Cup last year. Sione Havili Talitui is a great pick-up from the Crusaders, so the loose forwards are looking competitive. Former All Black winger Julian Savea has resurrected his Super Rugby career by signing on, he only needs one try to take sole ownership of the all-time record of 60 he currently shares with Israel Folau. So as long as he stays healthy, Moana will play their part in a significant moment in the competition's history.

Miracle Fai'ilagi of Moana Pasifika scores during the Super Rugby Pacific 2023.

Miracle Fai'ilagi of Moana Pasifika scores during the Super Rugby Pacific 2023. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The bad

Moana have done a refresh like no other in 2024: 20 new players with over half of them yet to play Super Rugby. That sort of inexperience is like blood in the water for the other New Zealand teams, who will not be feeling any sort of sentimentality when games start. Then there's the aforementioned off field issues, as we've seen with the Melbourne Rebels any hint of instability will quickly turn into a massive distraction. Moana need all the media help they can get but will be desperate not to have that manifest into a dozen journalists at training asking the players if they still think they'll have a job next year. Plus, Levi Aumua and Timoci Tavatavanawai are gone - not a great look for a team that was supposed to consolidate talent, not have it taken off them.

Levi Aumua.

Levi Aumua. Photo: Brett Phibbs

Big boots to fill

It's hard to really know who will have to try and replace the standout Aumua, as Moana have named nine outside backs in their squad that presumably will have to do some work in the midfield too. None are the blockbusting presence that Aumua is, though. Savea may well be tried at 12, where he'll need to wind the clock back and regain the form that gave him his nickname of The Bus.

Julian Savea runs out for his 150th Super Rugby game

Julian Savea runs out for his 150th Super Rugby game Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Fan critique

Actually feel like more of a sad guy not making fun of them, because there's no one to really make fun of … yet.

North Harbour Stadium stand.

North Harbour Stadium stand. Photo: Wayne Drought

Key games

All of them, really, but the first against the Highlanders will really give us a good idea of where Moana are at. Every win they can pick up is worth so much to this project, as any semblance of competitiveness gives them precious legitimacy. Round six sees them host the Blues at Eden Park, a bold gesture and one that could be an incredible coup if they can pull off the big upset. The last time they played the Drua it ended up in a 47-46 win for the Fijians, so the two games between the two - one in the Super Round and the other in Lautoka - hopefully are just as entertaining.

Moana Pasifika 2024 squad

Props: James Lay, Abraham Pole, Sateki Latu, Donald Brighouse, Sekope Kepu, Suetena Asomua

Hookers: Samiuela Moli, Sama Malolo, Tomasi Maka

Locks: Samuel Slade, Tom Savage, Ofa Tauetavalu, Irie Papuni, Viliame Napa'a

Loose forwards: Miracle Faiilagi, Ola Tauelangi, Alamanda Motuga, Solomone Funaki, Semisi Paea, Sione Havili Talitui, Lotu Inisi

Halfbacks: Jonathan Taumateine, Ereatara Enari, Aisea Halo

First five eighths: William Havili, Christian Lealiifano

Midfielders: Lalomilo Lalomilo, Henry Taefu, D'Angelo Leuila

Outside backs: Pepesana Patafilo, Fine Inisi, Neria Fomai, Anzelo Tuitavuki, Viliame Fine, Nigel Ah Wong, Julian Savea, Danny Toala, Otumaka Mausia

Tomorrow: Super Rugby Pacific 2024 round one preview