Southern utility back among talent moving teams to Moana Pasifika

Viliami Fine is tackled while playing club for Harbour. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Viliami Fine is tackled while playing club for Harbour. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Southland utility back Viliami Fine missed the cut for the Highlanders but he will still get to play Super Rugby.

Fine has been picked up by Moana Pasifika.

The Tongan midfielder or winger made his NPC debut for Otago in 2021, playing six games, before joining the Stags, where he has developed into a reliable contributor.

There should be opportunities for Fine, as Moana Pasifika’s two best backs, Levi Aumua (Crusaders) and Timoci Tavatavanawai (Highlanders), have departed.

New coach Tana Umaga has a steep hill to climb with 20 new players in a team that have won three games out of 28.

Otago prop Abraham Pole suits up for his third season with Moana Pasifika.

Elsewhere, there were few surprises as most teams had already announced their newcomers.

New Blues coach Vern Cotter has named promising Taranaki midfielder Meihana Grindlay and Bay of Plenty youngster Lucas Cashmore, son of former Blues fullback Adrian Cashmore.

The Hurricanes are Savea-less — Ardie is having a sabbatical in Japan, and Julian has joined Moana Pasifika — for the first time in a decade.

New coach Clark Laidlaw has released veteran locks Dom Bird and James Blackwell — either could be a contender to join the Highlanders as a replacement — and Wellington hooker James O’Reilly replaces the retired Dane Coles.

Former Highlanders, Crusaders and Chiefs utility back Ngane Punivai has made the Hurricanes his fourth stop in a peripatetic career.

The Chiefs welcome back playmaker Kaleb Trask from Japan, while Taranaki loose forward Tom Florence finally earns a permanent contract and Jimmy Tupou, formerly with the Crusaders and Blues, returns after five seasons in Japan.

The Crusaders officially unveiled their two ancient recruits, former All Blacks midfielder Ryan Crotty and Welsh great Leigh Halfpenny, as well as former Chiefs first five Rivez Reihana.

All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor is taking a non-playing sabbatical for most of the season.

Reds and Wallabies prop Taniela Tupou has joined the Rebels, who have also secured former Hurricanes midfielder Billy Proctor.

Former All Blacks props Alex Hodgman and Jeffery To’omaga-Allen and Fijian international Peni Ravai shore up the Reds front row, while veteran Brumbies halfback Nic White skips across to the Force.

There are 70 rookies among the 456 contracted players across 14 teams.