Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Moana Pasifika: Building the waka for the journey ahead

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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Neueli Mauafu | Reporter

Departing Moana Pasifika coach Aaron Mauger gives an insight on his time at Moana Pasifika and what the future holds for Pacific rugby across the world.

As the Crusaders and Chiefs battle it out this weekend for Super Rugby supremacy, someone who knows all about that is departing Moana coach Aaron Mauger. With 89 appearances under his belt for the Crusaders, Mauger is no stranger to the finals arena.

But after joining Moana Pasifika in its maiden year of Super Rugby, Mauger was thrown into the deep end juggling a new rugby franchise and COVID all in one go.

“The analogy we used was that the waka (boat) was on the water but it was still needing repairs.

“Coming into the job I knew that there was going to be a lot of guessing and predicting. It was tough at times but it was also exciting. I was really proud of everyone adapting to it, and there was no whinging or moaning about it,” says Mauger.

Aaron Mauger. Photo: Cook Islands News

During his two year tenure with Moana, results on the field were not as they had hoped. In 2022 the team only had two wins, while this year only resulted with one win in their final match against the Waratahs. However , a couple of close losses to Fijian Drua, Blues, Western Force and Crusaders signalled that the team has the potential.

Despite the results, Mauger remains positive and optimistic about the team and its future. Moana has provided results in a different perspective becoming a platform for a lot of younger talent to blossom on the big stage.

An example of this was hooker Samiuela Moli who Mauger believes is one of the most consistent players in their squad.

“He first came through to us a bit underdone. But then he took on the advice and feedback and became one of our leading stats players in the season. Would have Samiuela achieved what he has somewhere else? I don’t think so”. Mauger states.

(L-R) Timoci Tavatavanawai, Levi Aumua and Samiuela Moli

Samiuela joins a list of hardworking achievers for Moana this year. Tasman Makos duo Timoci Tavatavanawai and Levi Aumua were the talk of the season headlining incredible attacking stats.

Both Tavatavanawai and Aumua are in the top 3 player stats for most defenders beaten in the season. Tavatavanawai also set a record for the most defenders beaten in one game, with a total of 14 against the Waratahs.

Captain Solomone Funaki was also instrumental for the Moana jersey. Leading from the front, Funaki set an example for the team with a total of 163 tackles in the season. His hard work has also earned him a selection for the Ikale Tahi Tonga squad where he will be an immense performer come World Cup time.

A big part of the individual success is simply put down to the culture around the team. A culture that he believes is not “manufactured yet comes naturally”.

“We wanted to create a space where our boys could be themselves and where they can be Pacific islanders. Listening to the feedback from our boys who had been in other Super Rugby environments, they necessarily felt like they did not belong there”.

Photo: Moana Pasifika

Culture is something Mauger fully understands. Coming through during his playing days Mauger had the utmost respect for his fellow pacific brothers across the competition. Players who laid the platform for the growth of pacific culture within the sport.

“Two of my favourite players coming up were Michael Jones and Eroni Clarke”.

“I was taught to defend these guys during our matches, but I was just in awe of being up against my idols. I just had come out of school too and was playing against them so it was pretty surreal”.

Looking ahead, Mauger believes that the best is yet to come for Moana Pasifika. With a major input for Ikale Tahi and Manu Samoa, Moana Pasifika is heading in the right direction.

While he may be done with the club, Mauger is in talks to support the franchise from afar in continuing to build the Moana waka.

“The hulls are definitely tighter on our vessel but there is plenty of work to be done. There is foundational work to also be improved and I know the board and staff are aware of that. Our best is yet to come, but it will be soon”.

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