The inaugural Super Rugby Pasifika squads have been confirmed today, with a number of players moving franchises in 2022, stars returning from overseas commitments and 31 players who have signed full-time contracts for the first time.
The Blues, who will welcome back Beauden Barrett from Japan, and have the services of former Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck but have lost the likes of Otere Black (Japan) and Jonathon Ruru (France) and captain Patrick Tuipolotu (Japan).
The Blues won the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Trophy this year. Coach Leon MacDonald is determined to add to the Blues trophy cabinet in 2022.
“The team have improved each of the last three years and while we are very proud of that trophy sitting in our cabinet, it marks the end of the beginning for this group,” said MacDonald.
“Our key learning is that if we put in the mahi every week, every day and every session, and we do our homework and prepare well, then we can get the rewards.
“We can take real confidence from the Trans-Tasman title, but at the same time we realise this is a new competition and we all start on zero points.
“I am confident we have a team with a good mix of internationals and young guys. Titles aren’t the target every week – they are a consequence of us striving to improve in every aspect of our game and producing a level of rugby that we are proud of. It is going to be a hell of a ride.”
Down the road, the Chiefs will again be coached by Clayton McMillan who guided the two time champions to an improved season in 2021, reaching the final of the Super Rugby Aotearoa. They will have the services of Brodie Rettallick to call on in 2022 after the veteran lock missed 2021 opting instead to play in Japan.
McMillan will have at least 12 Māori players to call on in his squad, including 1-test All Black Josh Ioane (Te Rarawa) who has moved north from the Highlanders, and former Hurricanes development player Tyrone Thompson (Ngāi Tāmanuhiri, Ngāti Rangiwewehi) who could make his Super Rugby debut in 2022.
McMillan says naming a largely unchanged squad should see the Chiefs consolidate on the progress made in 2021.
“Some internal belief started to emerge last year after navigating our way through some real adversity, but it’s important we only see that as the starting point.
“We have to be better and I am confident the squad we have selected will be motivated in more ways than one to do just that,” he says.
The Chiefs will be without the services of the late Sean Wainui, who died in a car crash last month. Wainui had an outstanding 2021 season, culminating in becoming the first person to score 5 tries in a Super Rugby match, doing so against the Waratahs in Sydney.
The Hurricanes have picked up the services of former Chiefs utility back Bailyn Sullivan (Ngāti Kahungunu) and Taranaki captain Teihorangi Walden (Te Ati Awa), while also regaining most capped Hurricane TJ Perenara (Ngāti Rangitihi, Te Arawa) from Japanese club rugby.
The trio make up the large contingent of Māori players in the Hurricanes squad, which will also feature impressive Manawatū Turbo TK Howden, who is also one of 7 rookies named by coach Jason Holland.
Holland said he was delighted to welcome some fresh faces into the Hurricanes environment.
“I’m excited about our first year Hurricanes. We’ve got TK Howden and Justin Sangster coming onboard, both of whom have been dominant in the NPC this season and will be great to see where they can get to in their first full year at Super level.
“In the backs the majority of last year's group are back. But we are pleased to welcome Tei Walden, Bailyn Sullivan and Josh Moorby who will add great competition for spots in that backline.”
The Crusaders will once again have no fewer than 15 All Blacks to call on in their 2022 squad, including former Chiefs halfback Te TOiroa Tahuriorangi who has relocated south for next year in the hopes of reigniting his career after seemingly falling behind the likes of Brad Weber, Finlay Christie and Folau Fakatava in the eyes of the All Black selectors.
Scott Robertson will also have Argentina captain Pablo Matera in his squad. Matera will join the Super Rugby Aotearoa champions in 2022, having previously played for the now-defunct Jaguares in previous Super Rugby seasons.
Giant prop Tamaiti Williams (Ngāpuhi), who had an impressive season in 2021 will be given another season to develop his game further with All Black props Joe Moody (Ngāi Tahu) and George Bower on hand once again in 2022.
The Highlanders have lost the services of inspirational captain and hooker Ash Dixon (Ngāti Tahinga) who has moved to Japan, Josh Ioane to the Chiefs, and Hurricanes-bound Walden (Hurricanes). However coach Tony Brown has replaced that experience with former Chiefs hooker Rhys Marshall, Marty Banks, who has returned from overseas, and Josh Timu (Ngāti Kahungunu) who has secured a full-time contract. The team will be captained by veteran halfback Aaron Smith.
Brown, is excited with the team his coaching group have been able to assemble; blending youth, talent and experience.
“We’re really looking forward to taking on Super Rugby Pacific with this team, we have some good experience up front, good playmakers in the backs, and good size and pace mixed throughout the squad ”.
“It’s going to be a short preseason so it’s good to have so many guys familiar with how we do things returning in 2022, we will obviously need to hit the ground running,” said Brown.
Meanwhile, the newly formed Moana Pasifika team will also have a number of Māori players involved in their inaugural season, with Ereatara Inari (Rongowhakaata, Te Aitanga a Mahaki) and Lincoln McClutchie, who both had impressive NPC seasons with Hawkes Bay featuring in a squad that also includes former Wallabies Sekope Kepu and Christian Lealifano.