Miracle Fai’ilagi has set the stage for local rugby talent by securing a full time contract with Moana Pasifika for the 2023 DHL Super Rugby Pacific Season.
The Vailele Rugby Club’s elusive lineout jumper headlines the five new signings in the 2023 squad released in a press statement by the franchise this morning.
The 23-year-old was identified by Moana Pasifika Head Coach Aaron Mauger and Forwards Coach Leota Filo Tiatia at the recent World Rugby Pacific Combine held in Suva, Fiji.
Miracle Fai’ilagi has gone through Samoa’s rugby development and has become a household name amongst local rugby circles in the past 4 years since his school boy rugby days.
Miracle attended and played for Leififi College, secured two Super 9 Under 20s championships with the Taula Eels, and played an integral part in the Lakapi Samoa Championship win for Manono.
In 2019 Miracle was awarded the Super 9 Under 20s Player of the Tournament when the Eels retained the Championship trophy after a gruesome final against the Navigators.
Eels’ Uhder 20s head coach at the time, Pola Vaimasenuu Chris Faaofo credited Fai’ilagi’s consistency as a strong player with a bright future.
“His defense and explosive running made him a key contributor to the side throughout the whole season,” Faaofo had said at the time.
Miracle trained with the Samoa Under 20s but missed out on representing Samoa when he dislocated his shoulder just days from the test match against Tonga where Samoa won 36-0 to win the Oceania Trophy in 2020.
In January 2021 Fai’ilagi was one of 15 debutants selected into Muliagatele Brian Lima’s Manu Samoa 7s squad, and was consistently selected for the HSBC until the youngster made the move across disciplines to concentrate on 15s.
“He is a well rounded player both on and off the field,” said Muliagatele Brian Lima. “We are very excited for Miracle and his selection confirms our belief that local players can compete at the international level if they get regular quality competition and the right resources and support. We wish Miracle all the best for the upcoming season.”
Miracle’s selection by Manuma Head Coach Tupuivao Saumaniafaese Hanipale in August 2022 opened the opportunity for him to participate at the World Rugby combine.
Moana Pasifika’s coaching staff attended the combine with the intention of rewarding two players with training contracts for the 2023 pre-season.
“However, Fai’ilagi impressed with his physical prowess, game intelligence and professionalism which saw him rewarded with a full-time contract,” reads the Moana Pasifika press statement.
The top athletes from Samoa, Tonga & Fiji assembled in September for an intensive training week to emulate a professional rugby environment..
“The combine serves as a pathway to representing the Pacific Island national teams and provides exposure to a high-performance program,” said Mauger.
“Miracle is a natural leader who exudes humility, respect and tautua (service)..
“He has represented Samoa in Rugby Sevens so has a solid fitness foundation, a high work rate and is hard-nosed. He isn’t afraid to put his head into dark places and has a very high ceiling,” says Mauger.
“There was a lot of untapped talent at the combine and Miracle was one of several players that caught our eye,’ added the Moana Pasifika Head Coach.
“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 from the combine.”
Four further players have earned themselves their first Super Rugby contracts after impressing as replacement players for Moana Pasifika in 2022.
Otago’s Abraham Pole joined Moana Pasifika as a permanent injury replacement in 2022 and played in nine matches, scoring four tries. He solidified his starting spot on the loosehead side of the scrum and is a well-deserving recipientof a full-time Super Rugby Pacific contract.
Another welcomed addition to the squad is uncompromising Manu Samoa first five eighth D’Angelo Leuila. The 25-year old is a versatile athlete who can also play in the midfield and fullback. Head Coach Aaron Mauger was impressed with his Bunnings NPC form for Waikato this year.
“D’Angelo spent some time with us last year and we set him some challenges around earning a full contract and he rose to the challenge with yet another outstanding NPC Season. He’s an incredibly strong ball carrier, has a strong kicking game and sees space really well,” says Mauger.
Tasman Mako lock Mahonri Ngakuru and North Harbour loose forward Michael Curry are also elevated to full time contracts for the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season.
Ngakuru made five appearances for Moana Pasifika in their first season and adjusted to the environment well. Forwards Coach Leota Filo Tiatia was pleased with his assertiveness at lineout and willingness to learn. “His NPC form really caughtour eye and you could see he actioned a lot of the challenges we gave him at the end of our season. I’m excited to see what he can achieve in his first full season,” says Tiatia.
Michael Curry’s addition in to the 2023 squad was a no-brainer for Head Coach Aaron Mauger.
“I was really impressed with Mike. He came in to our team as a replacement last year and made such an impression on and off the field with his work ethic and his ability to learn fast. It wasn’t long before he established himself consistently in our gameday 23,” says Mauger.
Cohesion and building on the foundations made in the first season of Super Rugby was an important factor when determining the 2023 Moana Pasifika squad for Aaron Mauger.
“We had a very inexperienced squad last year which was evidenced by the 32 young men who made their Super Rugby debuts. In the past 12 months we have seen a lot of maturing and development in our players, and you only get that with playing at a high level.”
“This year we get an opportunity to go through a full preseason whereas last year we only had three weeks. This team harbours so much potential and all 39 contracted men deserve another opportunity to showcase their talent in an uninterrupted season,” says Mauger.
Moana Pasifika begin their 2023 DHL Super Rugby Pacific Campaign on Saturday 25th February against the Fijian Drua in a match that has been dubbed the Battle of the Pacific. Aaron Mauger is excited about the prospect of seeing the best of the Pacific on the field.
“It’s a dream to play the Drua in our first game and at home. It will be a celebration of all things Pasifika and a wonderful way to start the competition.”
Mauger is also eying the game in Apia on April 14th against the Queensland Reds as a special occasion.
“In the off season we have made a conscious effort to strengthen our connection to the Pacific Islands through establishing tangible pathways. To connect, serve and inspire our people in the islands is at the forefront of everything we do. It’s an exciting opportunity for everyone involved and hopefully the first of many trips to the Pacific.”